11 Fantastic Pieces Of Writing Advice From Fictional Characters
I don't know about you, but when I go looking for a little bit of writing inspiration, I often find myself staring at the same Hemingway, Bradbury, and Fitzgerald quotes I've heard a dozen times before. Those little proverbs are great, but they can get stale after a while. If you're feeling the same kind of inspiration fatigue, check out the 11 fantastic pieces of writing advice from fictional characters I've compiled for you below.
Authors populate their books with writer characters so often that it has become a trope. When fictional characters give writing advice, it can be completely different from what the real-life authors themselves may have said in their nonfiction books on writing. Ultimately, both tips come from the same source, but they may offer disparate, and even conflicting, advice for readers who want to be writers.
The quotes on the list below all come from your favorite fictional writers, including Jo March, Paul Sheldon, and T.S. Garp. Check out what they have to say about building your writing habits, choosing what books to read, and — horror of horrors — self-editing, and be sure to share your favorite bits of writing advice from fictional characters with me on Twitter!
"A little talent is a nice thing to have if you want to be a writer, but the only real requirement is that ability to remember the story of every scar. Art consists of the persistence of memory."
— Paul Sheldon, from Misery by Stephen King
You do not have to be abused, neglected, or unhappy to be a writer, but you should keep some small memory of your most emotional moments locked away in your mind palace. Those memories, good and bad, will help to inform your characters' experiences in later works.
"Garp's conviction that Franz Grillparzer was a 'bad' writer seemed to provide the young man with his first real confidence as an artist — even before he had written anything."
— from The World According to Garp by John Irving
If you need to latch onto a writer you really hate and resolve to beat them, then do it, if that's what it takes to make you write. I'm sorry to say that you probably won't beat pop-fiction titans like James Patterson or Stephen King in book sales, but that doesn't mean you can't try. If your anger toward another writer is what keeps you typing away at your desk, then don't let it go.
"No use trying to please everybody. No use trying to please — critics. Live under your own hat. Don't be — led away — by those howls about realism. Remember — pine woods are just as real as — pigsties — and a darn sight pleasanter to be in."
— Mr. Carpenter, from Emily's Quest by L.M. Montgomery
There used to be a saying, "write what you know." I say, write about what you want, but for goodness' sake, do not write about what happens to be selling at a particular moment in time. Books take a while to publish, so you should never be writing what you think people want to read. Write the book that you want to read, and let the rest sort itself out.
"It took me years to learn to sit at my desk for more than two minutes at a time, to put up with the solitude and the terror of failure, and the godawful silence and the white paper. And now that I can take it... now that I can finally do it... I'm really raring to go. I don't want anything to interfere right now."
— Isadora Wing, from Fear of Flying by Erica Jong
Once you have made a plan to write at a particular time and place, don't let anything stop you. Your scheduled writing time is an appointment with yourself, and barring true emergencies — no, laundry is not a true emergency — you should keep it.
"It's much more entertaining to live books than to write them."
"The problem, if anything, was precisely the opposite. I had too much to write: too many fine and miserable buildings to construct and streets to name and clock towers to set chiming, too many characters to raise up from the dirt like flowers whose petals I peeled down to the intricate frail organs within, too many terrible genetic and fiduciary secrets to dig up and bury and dig up again, too many divorces to grant, heirs to disinherit, trysts to arrange, letters to misdirect into evil hands, innocent children to slay with rheumatic fever, women to leave unfulfilled and hopeless, men to drive to adultery and theft, fires to ignite at the hearts of ancient houses."
— Grady Tripp, from Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon
In addition to a tenacious writing habit, you'll also want to cultivate good prioritization skills. You're going to be juggling writing, re-writing, and selling your work, and reading books to fuel your creative fire, with the demands of friends, family, and steady employment. It's not an easy task, but it's one you'll have to master if you want to write for a living.
"Voice is not just the sound that comes from your throat, but the feelings that come from your words."
— Miss Wilcox, as quoted by Mattie Gokey, in A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly
If you hang around writers long enough, you'll hear plenty of talk about "voice," whether it's someone saying that Author X has a distinctive voice, or that MFA Student Y needs a more developed voice. If you're a little confused, you should know that your voice as an author is the cadence and tone of your writing, and it's the all-important ingredient when it comes to making sure that your audience sees and feels exactly what you want them to. Developing it should be one of your top priorities.
"Words can be like X-rays if you use them properly — they’ll go through anything. You read and you’re pierced."
— Helmholtz Watson, from Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
Part of developing your voice is learning to choose and use the right words to describe the people, places, and events in your work. Some writers have a thesaurus at the ready, but others never use one, and rely instead on instinct to find the correct word. Whichever type of writer you are, be prepared to write, re-write, and re-re-write in search of the perfect word.
"With writing, we have second chances."
— Alexander Perchov, from Everything Is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer
Speaking of re-re-writing, remember to think of editing as your parachute. You can write whatever you like on the first draft, no matter how poorly, because no one will ever see it but you. Perchov is right to say that writing always lends second chances, because you never have to submit any piece of work in which you are not 100-percent confident.
"There are too many books in the world to read in a single lifetime; you have to draw the line somewhere."
— Margaret Lea, from The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
One of my best and oldest friends once told me that life is too short to read bad books, and I have used that as a mantra ever since. When you're working on your writing career, you'll want to focus on reading books that help to shape your craft, inform you of current market trends, and inspire you to be better at what you do. Whether that means reading Danielle Steel or Daniel Deronda is entirely up to you.
"I've left two stories with a newspaperman, and he's to give his answer next week.... It won't come to anything, I dare say, but I couldn't rest till I had tried."
— Jo March, from Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Don't be afraid to submit your work and see what happens. You lose nothing by submitting to an anthology or journal, or by seeking out a literary agent to represent you, so why not go for it? Remember: You'll never be published if you don't submit.