Who says that writing to your idol will not amount to anything?
In 1959, an American schoolgirl wrote to her favorite writer C.S Lewis asking him for advice on how to be a better writer. The famous author of such books like the Narnia Chronicles, sent her a list of 8 rules. Even though this was 51 years ago, some of them are still very much applicable and helpful for aspiring writers. (Oh, we wrote our own comments on each tip to “update’ it to our times)
1. Turn off the radio
Of course, in this age, that means turn off the internet. First do whatever research you need on the internet, then turn it off when you’re doing your actual writing. It sometimes provides too distracting. But if you have tremendous self-discipline or if what you’re writing needs constant looking at websites, then by all means, remain online. But trust us, you’ll get your writing done faster if you’re offline.
2. Read good books and avoid most magazines
This holds true in whatever decade you live in. Magazines are nice to look at and occasionally read through, but books will always have more substance.
3. Write with the ear, not the eye. Make every sentence sound good.
Write down your thoughts first, then keep coming back to it and re-editing it to make it sound good. Not all drafts have perfect cadence.
4. Write only about things that interest you. If you have no interests, you won’t ever be a writer.
It’s hard to write about things that you don’t like, so why should you waste your time on it?
5. Be clear. Remember that readers can’t know your mind. Don’t forget to tell them exactly what they need to know to understand you.
The goal is to enlighten your readers, not confuse them.
6. Save odds and ends of writing attempts, because you may be able to use them later.
Always keep a notebook handy to write down your “ideas that might fly someday”. Don’t delete that draft you’re writing in your blog or your computer. You never know when they might actually make sense.
7. You need a well-trained sense of word-rhythm, and the noise of a typewriter will interfere.
Well, we don’t think anyone uses a typewriter anymore (unless you’re a really old school writer) but we think what he means by this is sometimes, it is still best to physically write down what you want to say in order to avoid the distraction of, in our case, the sound of a computer keyboard.
8. Know the meaning of every word you use.
It’s good to expand your vocabulary (by right clicking and looking at the thesaurus) but make sure you actually know the word and not just trying to make your article sound highfalutin or verbose. You know what we mean.
Here are some other tips that he gave in another interview
- Always try to use the language so as to make quite clear what you mean and make sure your sentence couldn’t mean anything else.
- Always prefer the plain direct word to the long, vague one. Don’t implement promises, but keep them.
- Never use abstract nouns when concrete ones will do. If you mean “More people died” don’t say “Mortality rose.”
- In writing. Don’t use adjectives which merely tell us how you want us to feel about the thing you are describing. I mean, instead of telling us a thing was “terrible,” describe it so that we’ll be terrified. Don’t say it was “delightful”; make us say “delightful” when we’ve read the description. You see, all those words (horrifying, wonderful, hideous, exquisite) are only like saying to your readers “Please will you do my job for me.’
- Don’t use words too big for the subject. Don’t say “infinitely” when you mean “very”; otherwise you’ll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite.*
*From “Letter of 26 June 1956,” C.S. Lewis Letters to Children.
C.S Lewis Books (Narnia Chronicles Box Set, Mere Christianity, Problem of Pain, Miracles, Screwtape Letters, A Grief Observed) are available at all OMF Lit Bookshops