So you can read my books

Sunday, December 5, 2010


Ghost of Samuel Clemens here.

No, not Mark Twain.

Only heathen call me by that name.

It's my confounded pen name after all. And a pen name is a sort of ghost, ain't it?

Well, it would give me incorporeal indigestion to call myself a ghost of a ghost, don't you know?

I strolled over here to swap a lie or two with Roland, only to find him dozing in his chair.

On his electronic gizmo, the boy had written : the key to success in writing.

And then, promptly fell asleep.

He must have had one of those 300 miles day ferrying rare blood all over God's creation.

I took pity on the boy, pulled up my ghost chair and commenced to writing.

I purely have no idea what he was going to say, but ...

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.


  1. I like Samuel's Keys. Thanks for sharing them. :-)

  2. Linda : I'm glad you liked Samuel's visit. He and I are great friends. I think he just comes to play with Gypsy!

  3. Great tips. Thanks Mister Clemens. :-)

  4. Samuel isn't the only one who plays with Gypsy. Every time I come over here I have to rub her tummy and feed her nummies. (Hey I made a rhyme, does that make me a poet?)

    As always, great stuff Roland. I loved "implement". One of my favorite words. To be used in context, of course.

  5. These are great tips Roland - thank you!

  6. Thanks, Samuel. I have your complete works and they are still as fresh as ever.

  7. Hey Roland, I loved the tips. I also watched the Writing Alchemy video.
    Very good stuff!