Advice to Young Writers from Horace

It is said that Horace was a great man who lived a simple life. He was at home among the rural shrines that dotted country roads outside Rome. His ideal of simplicity was summed up in his shrewd advice to young writers.

Be brief. More ought to be scratched out than left.

– Horace

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Action and Result

I’ve been reading tips on writing – not anything genre specific, just anything to do with the craft of writing.

Most of what I’ve read today is common sense, or maybe just stuff that I’ve known for a while which makes me think it is common sense. But then I came across a small tip that reads:

Present action in action-result order.

Example: She looks – and sees. He bites – and tastes. She asks – he answers. The arrow hits him – he cries out.

–from “Fiction Makeover” by Evan Marshall

Again, common sense, but this particular tip is something I needed reminding of and I thought I’d share it with you too.

But, there are always exceptions to rules so when you want to hold suspense for a moment longer, here’s another tip:

To show a character’s reaction to something shocking, break the action/result rule and show the reaction before describing what is being reacted to.

Example: She opened her mouth to call out but as she stepped forward the beam of her flashlight dropped and she gasped in horror. Marcel lay in the green bath tub, his eyes turned vacantly to the ceiling. Blood spattered the sides of the tub…

–from “Fiction Makeover” by Evan Marshall and example excerpt from “A Palm for Mrs. Pollifax” by Dorothy Gilman

In the above instance, to describe the scene and then the reaction would create a sensation of a delayed reaction and possibly the reader detaching from the character.

Quote: Approach

You can approach the act of writing with nervousness, excitement, hopefulness, or even despair – the sense that you can never completely put on the page what’s in your mind and heart. You can come to the act with your fists clenched and your eyes narrowed, ready to kick ass and take down names. You can come to it because you want a girl to marry you or because you want to change the world. Come to it any way but lightly. Let me say it again: you must not come lightly to the blank page.

Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, 2000
US horror novelist & screenwriter (1947 – )

Quote: Persist

You must keep sending work out; you must never let a manuscript do nothing but eat its head off in a drawer. You send that work out again and again, while you’re working on another one. If you have talent, you will receive some measure of success – but only if you persist.

Isaac Asimov
US science fiction novelist & scholar (1920 – 1992)

Writing Prompts

Here are three writing prompts:

  • Write 200 or so words starting with, “A shiver ran up my spine…”
  • You wake up one morning to find everything as you know has changed. What happened?
  • Write two paragraphs using the following words: glitter, bite, feather, discretion.

Feel free to post your creations here. 😀

Flow Like a Mountain Stream

I saw the following words and thought I’d write a post on them.

A writer wants the words to flow like a mountain stream, …

by Steven O’Dell

This is so true, but how many writers have this happen? I mean, be honest, it rarely does.

It’s likely that many of us will have spurts of word flow, but those occasions are few and far between. In normal circumstances, we will often have to push ourselves to get the words down. The desire to write will be the driving force, not the flow of words.

What if the desire isn’t enough though? What if words will not allow themselves to be scribbled onto the blank sheet? This can be frustrating for a writer.

Some people, writers, call in writers block. Often it’s not writers block, it’s just procrastination. What’s the difference? With writer’s block the writer has no ideas, no words, nothing to work with. Their mind is a complete blank. With procrastination the writer has knows exactly what needs to be done, but continues to find excuses not to write.

I’ve never worked out why we do this to ourselves. We think about writing all day at work. We plan the next scene, the next chapter, and then when we get home we are eager to get to the keyboard … but we have to cook dinner, wash up, and spend time with the family. Finally, everyone has gone to bed, but still we do something else rather than write. Why? We have everything we need to sit down and write, so why do we pick up a book and read instead?

Why am I bringing this up? Well, it’s like this. I know exactly what needs to be done with my manuscripts. There is no writers block. I’m 100% sure of that. I have good intentions. “I’ll write tonight.” “I’ll write after dinner.” “I’ll write after I’ve checked my email.” “I’ll write in a minute.” “I’ll write…tomorrow.”

Each time I set a task to distract myself and I’ve completed that task, I set another one instead of just doing what I know I should be doing…writing. I annoy myself and what am I going to do about it?

Today, I did a bit of research on procrastination and here are some words of wisdom to help us (me) stop procrastinating and start writing:

1. Devote just fifteen minutes for the task. After fifteen minutes decide whether to spend another fifteen minutes, or defer it until tomorrow. Often a challenge becomes easier once we have started. Also, when we have worked at something for fifteen minutes, we don’t want to feel it was wasted so we carry on and complete the task. (From Dealing with Procrastination.)

2. Lazy people have no spare time. Procrastination is not only the thief of time, it is the creator of subtle inner tension. You know you are cheating yourself. (From Dealing with Procrastination.)

3. Get in touch with your self talk and feelings, and when you become aware of that “Hey let’s do it later” tug on your sleeve (which is often accompanied by a pit in the stomach), pointedly state to yourself “Do It Now! ”

4. …the way to conquer the problem is to treat the items I’m currently procrastinating as the first task of the day and the first thing that must be taken care of. No more taking care of small stuff first. (From Procrastination.)

5. Replace “I have to” — which promotes victimhood and resentment — with “I choose to.”

6. Replace procrastination with daily list making to keep you goal oriented and motivated. (From What is Procrastination?.)