Sunday, January 11, 2015

The 90 Top Secrets of Bestselling Authors by Jessica Strawser

The 90 Top Secrets of Bestselling Authors
Jessica Strawser

Writing advice: It can be all at once inspiring and contradictory, uplifting and off-putting, insightful and superficial. There are successful writers who impart wisdom freely and willingly, and then there are literary icons who claim to have none to dispense at all. As for the rest of us, we just can’t seem to help but look to our fellow writers who’ve achieved so much and wonder: What’s their secret?

Here, some of the most successful writers in recent (and not-so-recent) memory share their take on everything from how they get ideas (or go find them), to the best way to start a manuscript (or why the only important thing is that you start at all), to their most methodical writing habits (and quirkiest rituals), to writing with the readers in mind (or ignoring them entirely). The quotes were pulled from 90 years’ worth of Writer’s Digest magazines (as fascinating as it is to observe what’s changed since 1920, it’s equally refreshing to realize how much good, sound writing wisdom remains the same).

We trust you’ll find some quotes to be admirably succinct, others to be charmingly old-fashioned but timeless all the same. Above all, we hope you’ll find them all useful as you embark on another year of your own writing life.

Secrets 28-36: PURPOSE

—No. 28—
“The only obligation any artist can have is to himself. His work means nothing, otherwise. It has no meaning.”
—Truman Capote

—No. 29—
“Indeed, great fiction shows us not how to conduct our behavior but how to feel. Eventually, it may show us how to face our feelings and face our actions and to have new inklings about what they mean. A good novel of any year can initiate us into our own new experience.”
—Eudora Welty

—No. 30—
“You need that pride in yourself, as well as a sense, when you are sitting on Page 297 of a book, that the book is going to be read, that somebody is going to care. You can’t ever be sure about that, but you need the sense that it’s important, that it’s not typing; it’s writing.”
—Roger Kahn

—No. 31—
“They have to be given some meaning, the facts. What do they mean? The meaning’s going to be influenced by a lot of things in you and your own culture. And some of these things you may be unaware of. But every historian has some kind of philosophy of life and society. … All kinds of strands and currents and factors are involved. You have to separate and put together and from that we should deduce that there’s no situation in the present that’s simple, either. No simple answers. And the historian, when he looks over one of these situations, is going to try and consider all these things and try to be objective and fair and balanced, but what he picks out as the meaning will, of course, be what he himself believes.”
—T. Harry Williams

—No. 32—
“I’ve always had complete confidence in myself. When I was nothing, I had complete confidence. There were 10 guys in my writing class at Williams College who could write better than I. They didn’t have what I have, which is guts. I was dedicated to writing, and nothing could stop me.”
—John Toland

—No. 33—
“I write in a very confessional way, because to me it’s so exciting and fun. There’s nothing funnier on earth than our humanness and our monkeyness. There’s nothing more touching, and it’s what I love to come upon when I’m reading; someone who’s gotten really down and dirty, and they’re taking the dross of life and doing alchemy, turning it into magic, tenderness and compassion and hilarity. So I tell my students that if they really love something, pay attention to it. Try to write something that they would love to come upon.”
—Anne Lamott

—No. 34—
“[The writer] has to be the kind of man who turns the world upside down and says, lookit, it looks different, doesn’t it?”
—Morris West

—No. 35—
“The real writer learns nothing from life. He is more like an oyster or a sponge.”
—Gore Vidal

—No. 36—
“I think most writers … write about episodes meaningful to them in terms of their own imaginations. Now that would include a great deal of what they experience, but I’m not sure there’s an autobiographical intention. … I believe I’m telling the truth when I say that, when I wrote Catch-22, I was not particularly interested in war; I was mainly interested in writing a novel, and that was a subject for it. That’s been true of all my books. Now what goes into these books does reflect a great deal of my more morbid nature—the fear of dying, a great deal of social awareness and social protest, which is part of my personality. None of that is the objective of writing. Take five writers who have experienced the same thing, and they will be completely different as people, and they’d be completely different in what they do write, what they’re able to write.”
—Joseph Heller

20-27: STYLE & CRAFT

—No. 20—
“What a writer has to do is write what hasn’t been written before or beat dead men at what they have done.”
—Ernest Hemingway

—No. 21—
“You have to follow your own voice. You have to be yourself when you write. In effect, you have to announce, ‘This is me, this is what I stand for, this is what you get when you read me. I’m doing the best I can—buy me or not—but this is who I am as a writer.”
—David Morrell

—No. 22—
“Oftentimes an originator of new language forms is called ‘pretentious’ by jealous talents. But it ain’t whatcha write, it’s the way atcha write it.”
—Jack Kerouac

—No. 23—
“I think I succeeded as a writer because I did not come out of an English department. I used to write in the chemistry department. And I wrote some good stuff. If I had been in the English department, the prof would have looked at my short stories, congratulated me on my talent, and then showed me how Joyce or Hemingway handled the same elements of the short story. The prof would have placed me in competition with the greatest writers of all time, and that would have ended my writing career.”
—Kurt Vonnegut

—No. 24—
“You should really stay true to your own style. When I first started writing, everybody said to me, ‘Your style just isn’t right because you don’t use the really flowery language that romances have.’ My romances—compared to what’s out there—are very strange, very odd, very different. And I think that’s one of the reasons they’re selling.”
—Jude Deveraux

—No. 25—
“I guess I believe that writing consists of very small parts put together into a whole, and if the parts are defective, the whole won’t work.”
—Garrison Keillor

—No. 26—
“I’m very concerned with the rhythm of language. ‘The sun came up’ is an inadequate sentence. Even though it conveys all the necessary information, rhythmically it’s lacking. The sun came up. But, if you say, as Laurie Anderson said, ‘The sun came up like a big bald head,’ not only have you, perhaps, entertained the fancy of the reader, but you have made a more complete sentence. The sound of a sentence.”
—Tom Robbins

—No. 27—
“We, and I think I’m speaking for many writers, don’t know what it is that sometimes comes to make our books alive. All we can do is to write dutifully and day after day, every day, giving our work the very best of what we are capable. I don’t think that we can consciously put the magic in; it doesn’t work that way. When the magic comes, it’s a gift.”
—Madeleine L’Engle

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