So you can read my books

Thursday, November 14, 2013


{Victor's Mother courtesy of Leonora Roy}

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. "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."

    I like his reasoning. That's how I view my fiction.

  2. This is the second blog I read today that reminded the first draft is shit. Both blogs used the word. I feel so much better about the first draft I'm working on because it seems pretty bad.

  3. D.G.:
    You can write realistically if you have the scars reality has carved into you. Ouch!

    Hemingway is the man to quote all right! I am sure your first draft has the makings of a fine novel. :-)

  4. Good points. I definitely agree with Rule #4. If you're going to be a writer, you have to write and grow in your writing. There's no way around that.

    Happy Friday!

  5. Dana:
    I try to write something every day -- even those days when I am weary and dragging -- I sometimes find that sitting down to write one sentence energies me in some strange way. :-)

    Thanks for visiting, Roland

  6. An emphatic yes to all the rules, Roland, but special applause for Rule #2. The sequel is crushing the creativity out of writing both on the page and on the screen. It is possible to write a sequel and not "unscramble the egg." Of course it's more work and requires more thought, but it can be done.

    Character arcs, get them here. Good for one use per character. Do not reuse.

    VR Barkowski

  7. Sex, death, and food. We can't forget food. But I guess food can be boring to read about unless it's a book about food.

    By the way, thanks for the book download you sent my way a while back. I've got a bunch to read (seems like a got a whole slew of downloads recently) and I try to get to it ASAP and then write a review. But I did want to say thanks for your kindness.

    I hadn't forgotten you. I'm just slow.

    Tossing It Out

  8. VR:
    John D MacDonald and Robert B Parker showed us how to write a riveting series character with their own internal arcs over the years. You right though: it's hard work! :-)

    Stephen Brust does fine fantasy using food and eating -- but too much for my "taste" -- :-)

    You're welcome for the book. Read it when you can. I did it as a gift. Thanks.