To be honest, writing is great, but it’s also exhausting as hell. I’ve spent hours reading books until the darkest hours of the morning and always seem to come out with an undeserved confidence that I can write similarly if not better. Never has it happened. I’m not arguing that I don’t have the ability to write something fantastic on a whim, but sometimes all of the texts I’ve read mush together and I find myself falling for some of the more classic tropes. In my junior year of high school, my creative writing teacher aggressively tore apart my short story. The only coherent notes I could make out were at the bottom of the last page, where he wrote:
“Don’t repeat what others wrote. Make it different. Make it better.”
If only I had an angry writing mentor to follow me around daily as I wrote. It would be perfect if all writers had the advice of successful novelists echoing in their minds like a voiceover from James Earl Jones. In an attempt to start that writing revolution, I have compiled a list of some of the greatest writing advice for young writers, given by famous authors. I have taken their wisdom and added in my own commentary. No applause needed.
“When you first start writing, it’s tempting to make every character Tom Hanks. I know I wrote at least a hundred stories where all the characters were Tom Hanks, because I thought that was ‘real’ or ‘authentic’ or something. But it wasn’t. In Real life, most people aren’t Tom Hanks. They’re other people, except for the one guy who is Tom Hanks. Be honest in your writing, and limit yourself to one Tom Hanks character.” —Donna Tartt
I would like to preface this by saying that the Polar Express clearly did not heed this advice. The disturbing homeless ghost of Tom Hanks was something I could have done without.
What’s important to realize when crafting a main character or the wise mentor figure is that they aren’t restricted to typical heroism. Realistically, your character will not be completely morally upstanding without some oddities. Dumbledore isn’t Tom Hanks. Jack Sparrow certainly isn’t Tom Hanks. Character development is an incredible aspect of storytelling, because you don’t have to have anything in common with a majority of your characters. But, if you create a persona that you would absolutely not want to have a conversation with in the real world, cut them. Your characters deserve some depth that allows room for faults.
“Every time you write, ask yourself: Could this scene take place in a hot-air balloon? If the answer is yes, then it probably should.” —Haruki Murakami
Be creative, innovative, and take risks in your writing. You may not have had the experience of travelling to Thailand or taking a cross country road trip with only sixteen dollars, but that doesn’t mean you can’t write about it. Take advantage of the internet and research activities and places you may have always been curious of. Your writing won’t suffer from a little adventure and creativity.
If you need help (courtesy of clevergirlhelps):
“Always be writing. When I walk to the store, I am writing. When I make dinner, I am writing. I am writing right now. I am writing a story about the smallest clam in the sea and his name is Peter and he is fabulously rude.” —Karl Ove Knausgard
Just write. There will always be an excuse not to write. Daily life is not generous to the devoted writer; however, arguing that you need a specific setting, amount of time, level of stress, and whatever other criteria you may pull out, will only stifle your creative thinking and deter future productivity. Try to block out any personal downtime to write out any thoughts. Writing can be terrible and horrendously comical, and that’s okay. You may start off with a story about a clam named Peter and progress to a Sci-Fi novel about the temperaments of creatures under the sea. Write anything and everything, as soon as you can.
“Whenever you introduce a character, you don’t have to specify that they are wearing pants. Most readers will just assume that they are wearing pants unless you say otherwise.” —Zadie Smith
I love description. I want to know how a character’s eye color works with their hair in the moonlight while their best friend eats the most elaborately depicted sandwich. Descriptive language can be rich and beautiful, or subtle and simple. It’s completely up to the author. But let’s clear something up. Don’t just fill space. Each word deserves meaning and respect—even prepositions. If I can assume it, I don’t necessarily need to read it. I know your character is wearing pants.
“Young writers often overcompensate by having their characters wear Air Jordans. If your novel can’t stand on its own without every character wearing the latest AJs, it probably isn’t very good.” —Margaret Atwood
This one goes out to all you name-dropping, pop-culture-referencing ninnies. Now bear with me, it’s possible to produce a current piece of work without overloading it with shout outs to the current trends. Apple products and Mustangs don’t deserve your free marketing. Let the storyline and characters speak for themselves in conveying the present issues and complexities of their time. This also goes for those with a past narrative. If you are going to bring up the 1950s, acknowledge the true problematic ways of society or include references outside of Elvis and James Dean.
“Write out of spite.” —Me
If there is one thing I hope you remember from all of this, it’s that C.S. Lewis put that ridiculous street lamp in Narnia because Tolkien had publicly said no decent fantasy story would have a lamp in it. It’s possible to interpret that lamp as a hidden “screw you” from one author to another, but you can also see that that blatant stubbornness is how great story features are made. You don’t need to listen to guidelines or place your writing into a specific category. You don’t even need to listen to me or any of the authors above.