I am fascinated by what writers say about writing, especially if they are successful published authors. Not that I necessarily heed what they say, it’s more a matter of being reassured that there are at least as many ways of going about writing as there are people who succeed at it.
I guess people driven to a particular activity, whether it be a hobby, sport, craft or art form, like to read about other people engaged with it. For me, biographies, autobiographies and memoirs of writers have endless appeal; I wait impatiently for the next volume from Susan Sontag’s diaries.
How and when and why people write is extremely varied; there isn’t a formula. The general message I take from this is “Write”! Don’t think, talk, fantasise or anguish about writing unless you are actually doing it. Also, alcohol and drugs might give you a more interesting life to write about but will, at least in the end, not make you a (better) writer. Though for some, as I read recently in Olivia Laing’s, The Trip to Echo Springs: Why Writers Drink, alcohol makes writing possible, at least for a time.
“Write what you know,” is a cliché often used people giving advice to fiction writers. When “write what you don’t know,” is added, as Bill Manhire is said to, it gets more interesting. Neil Gaiman said something like “Writing is putting one word after another until the end.” There are plenty of so-called rules about (good) writing, most of which carry a caveat that it’s okay to break them now and then.
Take adverbs. Eschew those -ly words. Don’t write “sadly” or “encouragingly” or whatever, make the person/event/scene sad, encouraging and so on. Mostly. Elmore Leonard says if someone speaks, write, “he/she said,” nothing fancier, the mood, intent etc should be carried in the words. This is a piece of advice that I think has improved my writing of dialogue, even if I don’t follow it all the time.
Here’s a list of writers’ writing on writing from the wonderful website at http://www.brainpickings.org, which I recommend to all writers and readers: Elmore Leonard’s 10 rules of writing, Walter Benjamin’s thirteen doctrines, H. P. Lovecraft’s advice to aspiring writers, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s letter to his daughter, Zadie Smith’s 10 rules of writing, Kurt Vonnegut’s 8 keys to the power of the written word, David Ogilvy’s 10 no-bullshit tips, Henry Miller’s 11 commandments, Jack Kerouac’s 30 beliefs and techniques, John Steinbeck’s 6 pointers, and Susan Sontag’s synthesized learnings. Ms Google will find any of these for you. Brainpickings is an excellent and always interesting website, well worth checking out and linking to.
A final point: reading about writing has contributed a great deal to the way I read, to my significant benefit.