So you can read my books

Friday, August 13, 2010


{"There are keys to success in writing.

I did not learn them early.

I did not learn them all at once.

They came to me like the passing of a kidney stone --

with time and with pain."}

For Roland's sake, I am going to pass on a few of those keys. Not in any particular order -- just as they occur to me, much like I wrote my autobiography.


#1) Write without pay until someone pays you.

In other words, write because you love it, not for thoughts of wealth. Only a very few authors ever are able to leave their day job.

Do this and you will relax and write with confidence. The reader will sense this, and your novel will be more interesting to your reader.

Write only about what interests you. The reader will be infected with your enthusiasm and keep turning the pages.

#2) Don't say the old lady screamed.

Drag her out into the scene and have her caterwaul herself. Telling the reader that a grandmother was stabbed does not near involve him as showing her stabbed.

#3) Never say in writing what you couldn't comfortably say in conversation.

Be natural in your writing. It will add the feel of reality to your novel. Put an acorn of truth in each of your characters.

The lonely weariness of a single father will grab the heart of the reader. In the next chapter when he robs the bank, the reader will be on his side.

#4) Periods are not ugly --

so do not put them so far away from the start of your sentence. Make your sentences and paragraphs short. Do not make your writing blunt instruments of prose.

Rather, write with the ear, not the eye. Make every sentence sound good.

And for that you need a well-trained sense of word-rhythm. Train your ear by reading your pages aloud as you finish them.

#5) The more you explain it, the more I do not understand it.

Be clear. Clear writing comes from clear thinking. Know logic. Know the subjects your characters do. Know the law if your hero is a lawyer.

Make sure each sentence could only mean what you wished to express.

And Lord Almighty, use short, direct words. Do not IMPLEMENT promises. KEEP them.

Remember that readers cannot know your mind. Do not forget to tell them exactly what they need to know to understand you. Speaking English to a Frenchman will not get you very far. I know. I tried.

#6) Write as if you were dying --

Indeed, write as if your readers were dying.

And in a way, both you and they are. You just do not know your exact shelf life.

They don't have time for all those long, dreary paragraphs about Aunt Edna's digestion. What tale could you spin to a dying person that would not enrage by its shallow triviality?

That thought will prune many needless ramblings on your part.

And please no adjectives to tell the reader how to feel. Instead of telling us the thing is "terrible," describe it so that we'll be terrified.

You see, all those words (horrifying, wonderful, hideous, exquisite) are only like saying to your readers "Please, will you do my job for me."

#7) Do not hoard.

Give each paragraph all the dynamite you possess. Do not save a "good bit" for later. If you do, the reader may become bored and wander off before your novel explodes.

Do not worry. More dynamite will occur to you -- if you give each scene all the wit and heart you have.

Those are seven keys to success in writing. There are more, of course.

But too many keys jangling inside your heads will make such a commotion that you won't be able to think straight, much less see where they apply to you and your novel.

Stroll by here tomorrow for the entry I made for Roland in the Weather blogfest (damnedest name I ever heard of.)


  1. Another great writing lesson from the master. And thanks for the videos, I'll be back when I have more time.

    Roland, you and your amazing ghost writer friends are making a huge difference in my writing. Thank you, thank you from the bottom of my writerly heart.

    ~that rebel, Olivia

  2. As usual Roland your posts delight and captivate.

  3. Great post! I always seem to miss yours when I go blogging. I'll definitely try to do better come September. :)

  4. Fantastic!
    Thanks for not overloading the keys in my head - there are too many fragments there already!

  5. Nice channeling. I love Twain. And I think this is great advice... except the clear headed thing... I don't think I can do that part...

  6. Thanks for more helpful advice! I particularly liked, "give each paragraph all the dynamite you possess."

    And thanks for the video. I enjoyed it:)

  7. Hart : Clear headedness is a challenge for me too. Especially when someone cuts me off in traffic! Thanks for liking my channeling Twain.

    Kaelin : Yes, there are quite a few keys and marbles rolling around in my head, too.

    Stina : You're always welcome to drop by. I'll be looking forward to those September visits.

    Anne : I've missed your comments. Thanks for liking my posts.

    Olivia : Mark Twain's eyes twinkled at your compliment. I'm glad my ghost friends have provided a bit of help in making writing a little easier. Thanks for caring enough to comment.

  8. Terry : While I was saying my thanks, you were commenting at the same time. I'm glad you liked the video and Mark Twain's advice. You made his day. He was always something of a flirt!

  9. Roland, this post was so soothing to me this morning. Thank you for these wonderful reminders.

  10. Thanks for the suggestions. They are helpful for those of us who are writing our next novel right now. Great!
    Happy writing,

  11. An awesome piece of advice, possibly some of the best I've ever read: Write with the ear, not the eye.

    I'm very much in anticipation of your Weatherfest entry, Roland. :D

  12. LOL Roland: yes, breaking comments up should help. Switching computers does too :) Usually, when I run long on a comment, I cancel out and type it in a word document so I don't lose it. What can I say, I was on a roll and overheated the poor little thing by burning up the keys.

    BTW; I learned to type on a typewriter like that. An Olympia, I think. Does that date me or what.

    These tips are awesome. I do break the rules occasionally, but almost always intentionally. Sometimes, an adjective works so much better than long narrative.

    I especially liked the "Do Not Hoard" tip though. I think that one is why I participate in blogfests; helps give all due bang to the scenes.

    Hmm, is the weather blogfest tomorrow already? Wow, where have I been that I didn't realize. Its even posted at my sidebar.

    I need a vacation.


  13. You know what? I love that even when Mr. Clemens is being serious and giving us useful and practical writerly advice, he's hilarious. You're making my weekly recovery progress much faster with all these wonderful posts...

  14. . . . put your important thoughts at the beginning of your sentence, at the beginning of your paragraph, at the beginning of your chapter, and at the beginning of your story.

  15. I think you found the best bits of writing advice and stuck them in this post. Thanks Sam! As always, you rock.

  16. Thank you Mr Twain for these fab pointers! Clear writing, succint sentences, writing as if you are dying and and don't say the old lady screamed! Thank you!

    Take care