Aspiring writers will never tire of reading lists of writing advice from famous authors, whether legendary or living. And why should they? These lists, the most recent of which to bubble up in our collective consciousness being advice from W.G. Sebald, contain countless encouragements, tips, and (in almost every case) directives to get to it and stop fooling about. But even famous authors can lead young writers astray — after all, not every suggestion works for everyone, or every rule for every type of writing, and we find ourselves deeply skeptical any time anyone tell us we must do something (or not do it). As Sebald himself advised, “Don’t listen to anyone. Not us, either. It’s fatal.” After the jump, a few pieces of bad — at least in our minds — writing advice from famous authors, and if you feel so moved, add to our list in the comments.
“You never have to change anything you got up in the middle of the night to write.” — Saul Bellow
We have found that no one is much interested in our book of half-awake scribblings recounting our dreams.
“Quantity produces quality. If you only write a few things, you are doomed.” — Ray Bradbury
Tell that to Harper Lee.
“Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To hell with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.” — Kurt Vonnegut
We happen to like a twist ending, thank you very much. Or at least a story that’s not so boring we know exactly what’s going to happen.
“Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative.” — Oscar Wilde
Maybe on a grand scale, but not on a sentence level.
“Don’t try.” — Charles Bukowski
Unless he meant this in the Yoda sense (and he didn’t), we’re not biting.
“Write drunk; edit sober.” — Ernest Hemingway
Well, we can support the latter half of this sentiment, or the whole thing if he meant it metaphorically. Somehow we don’t think he did, though.
“Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.” — George Orwell
Never use anything you’ve seen before? That seems like a tall order.
“Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.” and “Same for places and things.” — Elmore Leonard
Of course, it depends on what kind of writing you’re doing, but no descriptions of anything ever? That seems like a sad future of stories in white rooms to us.
“You must refrain from rewriting, except to editorial order.” — Robert A. Heinlein
Well, he’s certainly in the minority on that one.
“Don’t be a draught-horse! Work with pleasure only.” — Henry Miller
We think Miller just didn’t want anyone else to get anything done.
“You’re a Genius all the time” — Jack Kerouac
Now we see what was wrong with Kerouac.
“Don’t have children.” — Richard Ford
“Stop reading fiction – it’s all lies anyway, and it doesn’t have anything to tell you that you don’t know already (assuming, that is, you’ve read a great deal of fiction in the past; if you haven’t you have no business whatsoever being a writer of fiction).” — Will Self
Again, we’re on board with the latter half of this sentiment, but advising a writer to stop reading? Maybe it works for some, but we can’t support that as blanket advice.
“Never use a long word where a short one will do.” – George Orwell
But what if a long word sounds better? Also, go read some Nabokov.
“Actually if a writer needs a dictionary he should not write. He should have read the dictionary at least three times from beginning to end and then have loaned it to someone who needs it. There are only certain words which are valid and similies (bring me my dictionary) are like defective ammunition (the lowest thing I can think of at this time).” — Ernest Hemingway
The most draconian of the bunch, and very silly.