On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
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Life isn’t a support-system for art. It’s the other way around.
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Come to it any way but lightly. Let me say it again: you must not come lightly to the blank page.
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If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write.
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I believe the first draft of a book – even a long one – should take no more than three months,
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What are you going to write about? And the equally big answer: Anything you damn well want. Anything at all . . . as long as you tell the truth.
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book-buyers want a good story to take with them on the airplane, something that will first fascinate them, then pull them in and keep them turning the pages. This happens, I think, when readers recognize the people in a book, their behaviors, their surroundings, and their talk. When the reader hears strong echoes of his or her own life and beliefs, he or she is apt to become more invested in the story.
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Write what you like, then imbue it with life and make it unique by blending in your own personal knowledge of life, friendship, relationships, sex, and work. Especially work. People love to read about work. God knows why, but they do.
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Two examples of the sort of work second drafts were made for are symbolism and theme.
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Your job during or just after the first draft is to decide what something or somethings yours is about. Your job in the second draft – one of them, anyway – is to make that something even more clear.
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how many drafts? For me the answer has always been two drafts and a polish (with the advent of word-processing technology, my polishes have become closer to a third draft).
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I’m looking for what I meant, because in the second draft I’ll want to add scenes and incidents that reinforce that meaning. I’ll also want to delete stuff that goes in other directions. There’s apt to be a lot of that stuff, especially near the beginning of a story,
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Not long after finishing Psycho, Hitchcock screened it for a few friends. They raved about it, declaring it to be a suspense masterpiece. Alma was quiet until they’d all had their say, then she spoke very firmly: ‘You can’t send it out like that.’ There was a thunderstruck silence, except for Hitchcock himself, who only asked why not. ‘Because,’ his wife responded, ‘Janet Leigh swallows when she’s supposed to be dead.’
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Call that one person you write for Ideal Reader. He or she is going to be in your writing room all the time: in the flesh once you open the door and let the world back in to shine on the bubble of your dream, in spirit during the sometimes troubling and often exhilarating days of the first draft, when the door is closed.
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Formula: 2nd Draft = 1st Draft – 10%.
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The most important things to remember about back story are that (a) everyone has a history and (b) most of it isn’t very interesting. Stick to the parts that are, and don’t get carried away with the rest. Long life stories are best received in bars, and only then an hour or so before closing time, and if you are buying.
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Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends. In the end, it’s about enriching the lives of those who will read your
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There’s an old rule of theater that goes, ‘If there’s a gun on the mantel in Act I, it must go off in Act III.’ The reverse is also true; if the main character’s lucky Hawaiian shirt plays a part at the end of a story, it must be introduced early.