The Basics: So you want to be a writer

by Anna Blanch on July 8, 2010

This advice is from a letter C.S. Lewis wrote an American schoolgirl in 1959 who asked her for advice on developing as a writer. (via St Eutychus and Christianwritingtoday) Writing is a craft and should be given the same amount of development effort as any other skill. More so, even, if this is part of your professional life.

  1. Turn off the radio.
  2. Read good books and avoid most magazines.
  3. Write with the ear, not the eye. Make every sentence sound good.
  4. Write only about things that interest you. If you have no interests, you won’t ever be a writer.
  5. Be clear. Remember that readers can’t know your mind. Don’t forget to tell them exactly what they need to know to understand you.
  6. Save odds and ends of writing attempts, because you may be able to use them later.
  7. You need a well-trained sense of word-rhythm, and the noise of a typewriter will interfere.
  8. Know the meaning of every word you use.


Let’s modify these rules a little and bring them up to the current obstacles that face writers today.

  1. Turn off the radio, television, music (spotify, pandora, itunes).
  2. Read good books and avoid most magazines.Try to keep a running list of well-written books on hand. Ask for advice from professors or more experienced readers and writers about books that might help you develop your craft by reading well written prose.
  3. Write with the ear, not the eye. Make every sentence sound good. Read your work aloud!
  4. Write only about things that interest you. If you have no interests, you won’t ever be a writer.
  5. Be clear. Remember that readers can’t know your mind. Don’t forget to tell them exactly what they need to know to understand you.
  6. Save odds and ends of writing attempts, because you may be able to use them later. Create a folder on your harddrive and throw all the scraps into it.
  7. You need a well-trained sense of word-rhythm, and the noise of a typewriter will interfere. Think about writing by hand or by keystrokes. This might be a good reason to make sure that your fridge/airconditioner/fan’s squealing gets attended to.
  8. Know the meaning of every word you use. There are both good online and hard copy dictionaries widely available. Use them.

_________________________ 
Anna Blanch is founder of Goannatree, and a PhD candidate in the Institute of Theology, Imagination, and the Arts at St Mary’s College, University of St Andrews, Scotland.  She is also a weekly contributor to Transpositions. You can read the rest of the posts in The Basics series here.

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