Tag Archives: Writer

Stein on Writing

Cover of "Stein On Writing: A Master Edit...
Cover via Amazon

Just completed a good book about writing by Sol Stein – Stein on Writing. Sol Stein not only has written books, he has edited numerous bestselling and critically acclaimed writers. If you want to be a writer, or are a writer, if I were you I would pay attention.

Here are a few good tips I’d like to pass along from his book:

Excellence in diction is the most important characteristic of fine writing. He means that the right word choice makes all the difference in a good book.

Do adverb and adjective liposuction on your manuscript. Most sentences don’t need more words to make them better, they need less.

Pick up the pace of your manuscript by making conversation adversarial, short sentences, frequent paragraphing, eliminate two-thirds of your words, delete scenes that don’t matter to the whole project even if they are lovely.

Use all six senses throughout your story. Wow! Does this make a difference!

Flashbacks: as a rule never put them in the first few chapters, and cut down on information dumping.

Here’s how Mr. Stein teaches how to show and not “tell”:

She boiled water. (tells)

She put the kettle on the stove. (begins to show)

She filled the kettle from the faucet and hummed till the kettle’s whistle cut her humming short. (shows)

The secret of good dialogue is – cut the small talk, listen to the way people use dialect and use it in your story,

A good way to create tension in a story is to note a fact. This often leaves a reader wondering why you’ve done it. For instance, “It is cold at 6:40 in the morning of a March day in Paris, and seems even colder when a man is about to be executed by firing squad.”

Use “particularity” in your writing. In his book On Becoming a Novelist, John Gardner said, “Detail is the lifeblood of fiction.” Sol Stein writes, It is not just detail that distinguishes good writing, it is detail that individualizes. I call it “particularity.” Here is one small example of the many that Mr. Stein uses. Instead of saying “Vernon was a heavy smoker.” You could say, “Vernon coughed from the ground up.”

Similes and metaphors? Use them. No clichés allowed.

Revision is the most important part of writing.

Mr. Stein says a great deal more in his book. His examples and his chapters on how to write specific things like love scenes should not be ignored, but I don’t have room or time for more. I hope this helps give you a little boost in your writing today.



Writing Time

Random hairy arm

Bottom line. Nothing thrills the writer’s soul like writing – marking up a blank sheet with anything resembling words, or better – sentences, or best of all – whole thoughts that might, just, make sense. That act of committing feels priceless.

Elizabeth George in her book Write Away says that she tells her students on the first day of her creative writing courses:

“You will be published if you possess three qualities – talent, passion, and discipline. You will probably be published if you possess two of the three qualities in either combination – either talent and discipline, or passion and discipline. You will likely be published if you possess neither talent nor passion but still have discipline … but if all you possess is talent or passion, you will not be published. And if by some miracle you are published it will probably never happen again.”

A bold statement. And I believe it. No matter what is happening in my life I try to set time apart to write. And at present those are at ODD times. The jury is out on whether a writer commits those little dashes and dots to paper every day, twice a week, every possible moment, whatever. Part of the “art” of writing is the “art” part. Art, unlike craft, is not a disciplined endeavor. It is the inspiration, the beating heart, the passion part. Because I must write. That’s what writers do. And when I’m not writing I think about what I’m going to write next.

But a writer will get no where thinking about writing. I know a lot of people who have a wonderful novel they have thought about. Until the words are committed to the page, I’m sorry, it isn’t a novel. That is the reason writers must MUST write. Butt on chair. Do it.

Some writers claim to spill out countless words all the time – be it on tissue, the napkin, or ink on the arm – when no paper is available. Others say they write a certain number of hours every day. This is a nice business-like attitude. I believe most of those who write in this way are men. (sexist) In fact, one of my favorite suspense writers, Dean Koontz, said in a recent interview that he got up every morning and shut himself away in his study to write. I think he mentioned the word business in the interview.

Some writers claim the morning is best for writing. I do. Although with my crazy life it happens that I use what moments I can grab. But mornings seem to be the most popular by a non-scientific three-to-one count on my part. Non-scientific because I haven’t kept score on paper and am at present trusting memory.

Again, to say with any conviction that this time or that time is best denies the artistic part of writing.

Jane Yolen author of Take Joy and one of the most beloved and prolific writers of children’s novels, picture books, and essays said, “Before I got a house in Scotland I thought I was a morning writer. Then we started spending summers in Scotland where the day lasts until 11 o’clock at night. That’s when I realized I was a Light writer.”

I love that. She’s so witty. It isn’t the time or day, it is the writing.

Writing with results must be a dichotomy, a disciplined art. Remember what Elizabeth George said – for publication the discipline is more important than the passion or the talent.

So put down the phone, put down the TV remote, and take the time to write, no matter what.