• PHOEBE

On Writing

Is there a creative process that has been more widely explored by its practitioners than writing? If there is, I haven't read about it.

From Stephen King to Ray Bradbury to Ursula K. Le Guin, many of the greatest writers of all time have attempted to distill the art and agony of their craft for the benefit of those still attempting to master it. Right now especially, I'm grateful to them. Writing on writing is something I've been turning to a lot recently, as I scale the walls of an intimidating new project that I would like to turn out much, much better than anything I've written before.

Given that I've never had any formal writing training - or even had my work edited in a consistent or especially rigorous way - I'm aware that I have a lot to learn. So thank god for those writers before and among us, who knew the acute pain of the blank page and took time to help others learn how to fill it. The collected quotes below are, I believe, relevant to anyone trying to improve in any creative field: "To write well is to think clearly" after all, and I think we'd all like to get better at that.




(i) Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.

(ii) Never use a long word where a short one will do.

(iii) If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.

(iv) Never use the passive where you can use the active.

(v) Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.

(vi) Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

- George Orwell “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There's no way around these two things that I'm aware of, no shortcut.”

- Stephen King

I think that there are many ways you can and should work on writing—reading is writing, thinking is writing, researching is writing, walking can be writing, watching a film or seeing a work of art is writing, talking to friends is writing, doubting is writing.

- Kate Zambreno

“Similarly, the impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes.”

- Annie Dillard 1. When still a child, make sure you read a lot of books. Spend more time doing this than anything else.

2. When an adult, try to read your own work as a stranger would read it, or even better, as an enemy would.

3. Don't romanticise your "vocation". You can either write good sentences or you can't. There is no "writer's lifestyle". All that matters is what you leave on the page.

4. Avoid your weaknesses. But do this without telling yourself that the things you can't do aren't worth doing. Don't mask self-doubt with contempt.

5. Leave a decent space of time between writing something and editing it.

6. Avoid cliques, gangs, groups. The presence of a crowd won't make your writing any better than it is.

7. Work on a computer that is disconnected from the ­internet.

8. Protect the time and space in which you write. Keep everybody away from it, even the people who are most important to you.

9. Don't confuse honours with achievement.

10. Tell the truth through whichever veil comes to hand – but tell it. Resign yourself to the lifelong sadness that comes from never ­being satisfied.

- Zadie Smith "One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple."

- Jack Kerouac