So you can read my books

Saturday, July 16, 2011


Ghost of Ernest Hemingway here

since Twain cheats at cards.

I lost to him at poker at Meilori's,

so I have to write a post

about the secrets to writing well.

Like with SEX and DEATH,

there are NO SECRETS.

Yet there are. In fact, SEX and DEATH are the backbone of most good novels, for all good stories are based in some way on those two elements in life.

So you want to know the SECRETS to writing a bestseller? All right, here they are :


Secret #1 :
There aren't any secrets.

Secret #2 :
There is only one secret :

The only secret to good writing is that it is poetry written into prose, and it is the hardest of all things to do.

But I will try to see if I can't share a bit of what I've learned. We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.

And if you are reading this at night, it will mean something different than if you are reading this in the day. I know the night is not the same as the day:

that all things are different, that the things of the night cannot be explained in the day,

because they do not then exist, and the night can be a dreadful time for lonely people once their loneliness has started.

There are no secrets to good writing. But there is a compass :

No sentimentality allowed.

There is no sentimentality in prose that touches the heart.

Sounds like nonsense. It isn't.

Sentimentality, sympathy, and empathy are turned inwards, not restrained, but vibrant below and beyond the level of fact and fable.

If you would touch your reader, find what gave you a similar emotion :

what the action was that gave you the excitement. Then write it down making it clear so the reader will see it too and have the same feeling as you had.

No secrets. No sentimentality. Yet, there are rules :

Rule #1
Writing is re-writing.

The first draft of anything is shit. Get the draft done, then sculpt away anything that is excess.

Rule #2
In fiction as in life : you can't go back.

The reason most sequels, films or books, fail is that the author tries to unscramble the egg. The hero has changed, has learned, has become something other.

Rule #3

Good books belong to the reader.

The reader will identify with your protagonist if you've been honest.

The tale then belongs to him : the good and the bad, the ecstasy and the remorse and the sorrow. He will have felt the air on his cheek, smelled the bread baking on the breeze, and how the weather was.

He will feel that it has happened to him.

Rule #4
Talent is not enough.

It doesn't matter if you have the talent of Kipling. You must also have the discipline of Flaubert if you would become a good writer. Dreamers dream pipe dreams. Writers write. Writers grow in their craft.

Rule #5
Know everything.

No bullshit. And if you would be a writer, you must develop a foolproof shit detector.

A good writer must know everything. Naturally, he will not. That is why you must read.

Mr. King was right when he said that if you do not have time to read, you have no business being a writer.

Read fiction. Read non-fiction. Read psychology texts. Read biographies, autobiographies. Become a student of life.

Good writing is true writing.

If a man is making up a story, it will be true in proportion to the amount of knowledge he has about life and how conscientious he is :

so that when he makes something up, it is as it would truly be.

Sit down and think about what I've written. Look over what you last wrote. Slash and burn what is excess.

Sermon over. Now, sit down and write something.


  1. LOL! There are no secrets, then of course there are, love that! So true though. I also love your idea of slashing and burning the excess. I'm all over that! In fact, I may print that out and post it by my work space...

  2. I love te way you express your self, if I could only be half as eloquent, even a quarter would do.

  3. I love Hemingway's point of view. Those are great rules to live by, and they are so true...rewriting, editing, tossing out the crap. I still maintain that your prose is lovely.

    Ahem, I do realize you're a man, but I'm going to veto your blog unless you start adding a few manly pics with all those nude women you keep posting. ;)

  4. ...rule #1 was always difficult for me to swallow in my youth, being the cocky storyteller that I was. I scored success at an early age, got something printed in the paper, figured everything my fingertips hammered out was as good as gold. Ha! Live and learn, live and learn, and that I did, painfully so.

    Well done as always, Roland. And kudos on these Fox pics you've been posting. My compliments to the chef ;)


  5. great advice! long time, no see. are you back in your apartment? are you guys in the heat wave? we finally got a break yesterday and today. whew!

    writing like a fool :)

    take care of you! be back soon!

  6. I never comment. But I always read. I feel intimidated by how well you write. And that I can't measure up, so why bother?

    But then I realize that everyone has something to say, and that we can't all say it perfectly. And that telling the story is important, even if the words aren't right.

  7. Heather :
    Hemingway was a man of irony, so the secrets no secrets was just like him. Much of his advice was taken straight as he wrote it to others in letters. He would be pleased to have his words by your computer! His ghost may even pay a visit to have look himself!

    Wendy :
    I read your posts. You have talent, but you are so close to it that you do not recognize it as such.

    Laila :
    Blame the pictures on the ghosts of Ernest Hemingway (who being a more modern ghost had less clothes on Megan!) and Mark Twain (who being an 1800's ghost felt more comfortable with more clothes on the filly!)

    Samuel Clemens promises me that the next post will have a photo just for you at the bottom (sly fox wants you to read the post first!)

    Ernest is pleased you liked his advice. Be careful. Lovecraft's ghosts is next according to Mark Twain.

    Elliot :
    Well, those Fox photos are beginning to get me in hot water to match my still sweltering apartment!

    At least you got reinforcement at the beginning of your writing career. Perhaps the memory of your first sale kept you going thru the lean times that come to all great writers.

    Hope your sales are getting ever higher!

    Words Crafter!
    Am I glad to see you here again. Alas, my heat wave is still on in my sweltering apartment. The owner still has not installed a stove in the apartment I am moving to nor has he cleaned the stained carpet. But there are worse fates than sleeping on the floor of the vacant apartment he is renting me in the interim.

    Ami :
    Please comment, if only to say HI. I sometimes feel as I am playing to an empty house.

    Ernest Hemingway and Mark Twain wrote in styles poles apart. Yet they both sold. Raymond Chandler, too. And J K Rowling has her own style. Write what is in your heart. And as you say, what you write will be of worth!