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The Musings of D.S. Taylor

As I trekked through a wilderness of prose that somehow became a novel, I arrived at some conclusions about writing. Creating a novel is a journey, and just as the characters within that journey grow, so too does the author. If the same person who wrote the first page writes the last, you’re not doing it right.

So crack open my skull and steal my thoughts … pretentious though it may be to claim as much, if you’re a writer, I believe what you’ll find may have some worth.

***

Good authors write of what they love. Bad authors write what they believe others will love.

Write it, read it, cut it. Then write it again.

No great author was ever born in a creative writing class. The only way to learn to write, is to write.

If in doubt cut.

Give a character ambition, but don’t tell him how to fulfil it. Just sit back and let him take you where he will.

Good isn’t good enough.

Story is nothing, characters are everything.

Sometimes your eraser produces better prose than your pen.

Write like you fight. Your readers are your foes. To stand triumphant on the battlefield you must hit those foes hard, you must hit them fast and you must hit them often.

If you don’t spend your days either writing, or thinking about writing, don’t tell me you want to be an author.

Never let morality get in the way of a good story. If the bad guy kills the good guy, so be it.

“I’m suffering from writers block,” is the succinct, way of saying “I’d rather have a pint and relax in front of the telly, than sit down and do some work.”

A critic cannot create a diamond, only point to its flaws.

See an adjective, cut an adjective.

The line between terrible and terrific is often thinner than the line between good and mediocre.

Write a page. Turn that page into a paragraph. Reduce that paragraph to a line. Telling a good story is not about how much you write, but how much you cut.

Comments (20)

  1. Hey D.S. – I love your musings. They are very real and I have found them to be painfully true as I myself attempt to navigate the wide open waters of the writing world. I do take issue with the one on adjectives – I don’t think they are pure evil, when used in the right dosage. Of course that is an issue the two of us can debate over a pint after we have bestowed our considerable literary talents upon the world, eh? : ) Now adverbs on the other hand, are quite deplorable. I was once a repeat offender on that front but Stephen King brought me into the light on that one. Cheers mate and good luck on your writing (and editing!)

    • Dave

      Thanks for your comment! Yeah, adjectives aren’t all bad, but when I was reading through a rough draft of the ‘masterpiece’ I started finding them everywhere and had to go into a cutting frenzy. Like you say, they are fine in moderation, but when you’re in the writing-zone, you just want to describe everything and build your world, so before you realise it, you’ve stuck them in all over the place. And adverbs, oh yes, the are even worse!! …. I better get the scissors out again …

  2. Damien J

    came here almost by accident, but I’m glad I did now. I love this post! Especially this one – “Give a character ambition, but don’t tell him how to fulfil it. Just sit back and let him take you where he will.”

    I always used to try to plot out what was going to happen and then have the characters follow that plot. But you’re right. its so much better when you let the character that you have created make the decisions. Sometimes when I’m reading something and a character does something I think hmm … that doesn’t seem right. maybe if more authors ‘sat back’ and let the characters drive the story we’d get some more believable fiction.

    • Dave

      Thanks, and I agree, there are few things more off putting than characters doing things you don’t believe they would do.

  3. Looks like you and I have the same philosophy regarding cutting. I believe it’s not the number of words you write that matters, it’s the number of words you cut. What really opened the prison doors for me as a writer was the realization that it’s okay to allow myself to be bad. Mounds and mounds of bad, bad writing can be cut, boiled down, condensed to its essence and become something amazing. I loved this post, great job!

    • Dave

      Thanks! Its the same realization I came to. I think when you’re ‘in the zone’ so to speak you can often churn out loads and loads of words and think you’re doing great – in the moment you think what you’re producing is awesome stuff and the noble prize for literature is all but in the bag. But then if you sit back and actually look at what you’ve written (especially if you do this a few days later) you find that its nearly always kinda ‘clunky’ things are over explained, lines are too long, you’re taking too long to get to the point etc etc. In essence there are way too many bells and whistles and the story itself is somewhat diluted. I almost think a writer needs two heads – a writing/creative head – and an editing/cutting head. Its hard to produce a story that will keep people turning the pages if you only use one.

  4. Good stuff, good stuff…

    I have to say, that I do suffer from self imposed writer’s block, but it’s a bit different in that I am part perfectionist, and reject my own thoughts before I can test them in the story. Then while I am sitting there trying to fill in a gap, my mind goes blank…because I have emptied it of the things I wanted to write. So I go take a shower (helps me think? – IDK either) and BAM, I have thoughts again and can’t get to the computer/notepad fast enough, because if I take too long I go blank again. XD

    • Dave

      Yeah, I think the secret is to just keep at it. If the epic prose isn’t coming just take a breather, sit back and then have another go. If it means just scribbling down a load of rubbish keep going, somewhere in the scrawl you’ll find a golden nugget!

  5. StephanieCole

    wow I love these musings! I think they’re all spot on especially what you say about writer’s block its all down to determination to work through it! I don’t really get what you mean by “The line between terrible and terrific is often thinner than the line between good and mediocre.” though!

    Explain!! 🙂

    • Dave

      Thanks Stephanie. Well I just mean that if you’re bold and take a risk and let the characters take you somewhere unexpected, you could end up with something fantastic – or conversely something completely nonsensical! But if you plod away and take no risks, you might end up with some mediocre, you might even end up with something good, but you can be sure you won’t end up with something that will change the world.

      Thats just my opinion of course but there you are. 😉

      • StephanieCole

        Wow that’s kinda deep. What sort of risks do you take when you write? I’d love to read your wilderness of prose that somehow became a novel!

  6. Spot on with the musings. My friends say i’m mad when i tell them that the characters drive where the story goes. I know them so well that, at every choice i ask myself what they would do, and off we go.

    I’ve had writers’ block for a few weeks since publishing my first novel on kindle. In reality it wasn’t block, it was a combination of needing a rest and having so many possibilities. I spent much of last night thinking about the conundrum chat i’d given them in chapter 1 and, by morning, chapters 2,3 and possibly 4 were laid out before me.

    • Dave

      you’re certainly not mad! As far as I’m concerned you can build the world and create a back story and all but you can’t pre determine everything that your character is going to feel and do, the more real you make them the more unpredictable they come!

  7. Joe Hartnet

    I agree about creative writing classes, they will never make a poor writer into a great one but one good thing about them is you may get to meet like minded people, you can make friends for life in creative writing classes

  8. Oooh –I loved this. So many great tips, and some great insight on the writing process. It does seem like literary gold when it first goes down on the page, doesn’t it? And then you come back the next day, or a week later, and think WTF?! I totally agree with you –so much of good writing comes in the hard work that follows –heavy cutting and line-by-line editing.

    Erin
    http://www.erinbradypike.com

    • Dave

      sometimes i forget just how hard it can be and imagine I can just wait for the inspiration to strike … its a long wait!

  9. Finally got to your blog, and it’s been worth every minute.

    Despair not, Dave. You will finish the novel because you know that the muse does not visit on a whim. To heck with the muse. It’s all about butt on chair 3 hours/day whether or not you feel like it. As you say, the only way to learn to write is to write. Or, as I tried to explain to a friend in the high tech world “Your writing is like data. How can you analyse what’s good or bad if you don’t have enough data to analyse?”
    100,000 words takes time. 100,000 good words, even more time.

  10. Dave

    “It’s all about butt on chair 3 hours/day whether or not you feel like it. ”

    you’re not wrong

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