What's your advice on writing? I write a lot, but sometimes it feels like nothing I write is ever good enough.
Oh wow. Okay this is like being asked what the meaning of life is, but here goes:
- Read. Read a lot. Read everything you can get your hands on. Read the postmodern classics. Read Hemmingway and Vonnegut and Atwood. Don’t just read novels. Read poetry. Read the newspaper. Read the back of the shampoo bottle. Read nonfiction.
- While you’re reading, keep a mental ‘Good’ and ‘Bad’ list. What is interesting? What isn’t? What seems melodramatic? What is meant to seem melodramatic? Where are there errors? Where are the errors effective? That is how one learns to write. (I’ll give you a head start on this one: Only lazy writing uses adverbs and adjectives. Good writing doesn’t need them; it uses descriptive verbs.)
- But, while you’re at it, work on your grammar. I would highly recommend Constance Hale’s Sin and Syntax. It is specifically for using grammar effectively in prose.
- Make lists. Collect something. Whether it is beauty salons with punny names (Curl Up and Dye, etc), quirks you run across (a grocery stocker who chews cardboard from the boxes while they work), pet names, clothes-catalogue colors (what the fuck is ‘heather,’ anyway?), brands of beer (from Blue Moon to Corona), breeds of dogs— It doesn’t matter, just collect something. Now when you need a detail for a story, you have a whole fucking database.
- Where are you going to keep these lists? Oh yes, in your handy dandy notebook! Get one and keep it with you always. Oh, and a good pen. One that writes really smoothly. I recommend a G2 or Uniball, and a Moleskine to write in. To each his own, but I’ll say this much: If you don’t have a favorite brand of pen or notebook, you’re not a writer.
- This notebook is also for words you don’t know. When you come across a word you aren’t familiar with, whether it’s in a novel or on the back of your shampoo bottle, write it down. You don’t have to look it up now, but look it up sometime. Learn new words.
- Make a list of words you already know; specifically, your favorite ones. Figure out why they’re your favorite ones. Because of how they sound? Because of its denotation? Because of connotations? Expand this list. This list should consist almost entirely of verbs and nouns. Fuck adverbs.
- Finish stories. Honestly it doesn’t matter whether you start a story if you never are going to finish it. When you get an idea for a story, go ahead and write it down, but for Christ’s sake, never start a story if you don’t know where it’s going. Know the ending when you start. A story is not a sequence of events; it’s a plot. The end is what’s important, and everything that comes before the ending must logically lead to the ending.
- That being said, Kurt Vonnegut once said the best way to write a short story is to start with a declarative sentence, and then simply answer all the questions that sentence raises. The story is done when all the questions are answered.
- Write every single day. It doesn’t matter what or how much; just write.