NOTA BENE BOOKS BLOG

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Advice on Writing

I think descriptions of nature should be very short and always be � propos. Commonplaces like “The setting sun, sinking into the waves of the darkening sea, cast its purple gold rays, etc,” “Swallows, flitting over the surface of the water, twittered gaily” – eliminate such commonplaces. You have to choose small details in describing nature, grouping them in such a way that if you close your eyes after reading it you can picture the whole thing. For example, you’ll get a picture of a moonlit night if you write that on the dam of the mill a piece of broken bottle flashed like a bright star and the black shadow of a dog or a wolf rolled by like a ball, etc. . . . In the realm of psychology you also need details. God preserve you from commonplaces. Best of all, shun all descriptions of the characters’ spiritual state. You must try to have that state emerge clearly from their actions. Don’t try for too many characters. The center of gravity should reside in two: he and she.

Anton Pavlovich Chekhov
Russian physician & writer

I was under twenty when I deliberately put it to myself one night after good conversation that there are moments when we actually touch in talk what the best writing can only come near. The curse of our book language is not so much that it keeps forever to the same set phrases . . . but that it sounds forever with the same reading tones. We must go out into the vernacular for tones that haven’t been brought to book.

Robert Frost
American poet, winner of Pulitzer prize in 1923, ’30, ’36, & ’42

How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live.
Henry David Thoreau ‘American author, development critic, naturalist, transcendentalist, pacifist, tax resister and philosopher’

Be regular and ordinary in your life, so you may be violent and original in your work
Gustave Flaubert.

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