So you can read my books

Saturday, January 19, 2013


{"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."}

Ghost of Mark Twain here:

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. The one about periods being far away made me chuckle.
    I take the never write what you wouldn't say and apply it to language as well. No, I'm not above cussing when I'm mad (and usually in private) but in conversation I don't use those words. So I don't use them in writing. That's just me, but that's how I roll.

  2. I like to hear what Twain has to say, he's another fave. We try to keep all these 'do this but don't do that' rules in our heads, but you're right sometimes it gets noisy.

    Then I follow 'gut instinct' and fix the writing in the edits. My gut has never steered me wrong, so far.

  3. What amazing tips these are. Mr. Twain was truly a man ahead of his time.

  4. Alex:
    Mark Twain has a "novel" way of putting things. Even today, his words make us smile.

    With language, I try to keep in mind that I have no idea the age of the person who will read what I write. I work hard to make my novels "family friendly" while keeping rough language as authentic sounding as possible.

    In FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS, Hemingway artfully handled the cursing of a peasant soldier.

    How I roll is usually out of bed way too early and too often on blood runs! :-)

    Like you, I have always loved Mark Twain. Some of the most fun I had writing was putting myself in a paranormal NORTH BY NORTHWEST with the ghosts of Mark Twain and Marlene Dietrich as my fellow fugitives on the run across history and my fictional worlds in GHOST OF A CHANCE.

    You're right: the best writing is when we do it from the heart, going with the flow of the prose. Writing is re-writing really. :-)

  5. Optimistic Existentialist:
    Yours was a very thought-provoking post today. Wasn't Mark Twain a wise and witty teacher? :-)

  6. I'm so shocked that they've edited Huckleberry Finn to include the word "slave" over the controversial "n" word. Mark Twain is perhaps the greatest writer America has ever produced. Ah well.

  7. Michael:
    He used the word his characters would have used in that time. The Political Correcters would paint clothes on the works of the great masters if they could.

    Hemingway insisted modern American literature began with Huckleberry Finn and that it was the greatest American novel written. Now, of course, it is 50 SHADES OF GREY. :-)

  8. Raquel:
    I loved that you visited and liked my post enough to comment! :-)