Writers: are they tormented or demented souls?

Neil Gaiman gave me the best writing advice I've ever had.
Neil Gaiman gave me the best writing advice I’ve ever had.

Everybody wants to be a writer.

And a lot have succeeded.

Some are serious about the craft.

Others just want to fill up pages with words.

Many times, the pages had more meaning when left blank.

I’ve written a few that should have been left blank.

Those who are serious about writing are the tormented souls.

Some would say that demented might be a better word.

But if you want to be a writer, are planning to be a writer, or thinks that writing offers the one great step to fame and good fortune, please heed the words of those writers who have come before you.

Dorothy Parker: If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second greatest favor you can do them is present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first greatest, of course, is to shoot them now while they are happy.”

Harper Lee: I would advise anyone who aspires to a writing career that before developing his talent he would be wise to develop a thick hide.

Jack London: You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.

George Orwell: Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout with some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.

Anne Enright: Imagine that you are dying. If you had a terminal disease would you finish this book? Why not? The thing that annoys this ten-weeks-to-live self is the thing that is wrong with the book. So change it. Stop arguing with yourself. Change it. See? Easy. And no one had to die.

Neil Gaiman: Remember: when people tell you something wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.

Kurt Vonnegut: Here is a lesson in creative writing. First rule: Do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing All they do is show you’ve been to college.

Ernest Hemingway: Write drunk, edit sober.

Joshua Wolf Shenk: Get through a draft as quickly as possible. Hard to know the shape of the thing until you have a draft. Literally, when I wrote the last page of my first draft of Lincoln’s Melancholy I thought, Oh, shit, now I get the shape of this. But I had wasted years, literally years, writing and re-writing the first third to first half. The old writer’s rule applies. Have the courage to write it badly.

Ray Bradbury: You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.

Lev Grossman: Don’t take anyone writing advice too seriously.

David Ogilvy: Never use jargon words like reconceptualize, demassification, attitudinally, judgmentally. They are hallmarks of a pretentious ass.

David Ogilvy should not be concerned.

I never use words I cannot spell.

And when it comes to racing through the manuscript for the first time, not worried about anything but reaching the finish line, I understand exactly what Hemingway meant when he said: “The first draft of everything is shit.”

Now it’s time, like an artist, to brush in the highlights.

You made the words sing.

The re-write adds the melody.

Of all the advice I’ve read, I think the words of Neil Gaiman have meant the most.

He said: “Start telling the stories that only you can tell, because there’ll always be better writers than you and there’ll always be smarter writers than you. There will always be people who are much better at doing this or doing that – but you are the only you.”

I can’t tell your story.

I can’t tell his story.

I can’t tell her story.

No matter how much I try.

No matter how badly I want to.

I can only tell mine.

Mine are the only stories I know.


One of the stories was written in the novel, deadline News. Please click the book cover image to read more about Caleb Pirtle III and his books.


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