Thursday, September 1, 2016

Erin Stalcup’s Writing Advice (Not Rules) Mostly Written by Other People

In the 17th in a series of posts on 2016 books entered for The Story Prize, Erin Stalcup, author of And Yet It Moves (Break Away Books), offers advice from Toni, Flannery, Sherman, Zadie, and Erin, among others.

1. The ability of writers to imagine what is not the self, to familiarize the strange and mystify the familiar, is the test of their power.
     —Toni Morrison

2. Art never responds to the wish to make it democratic; it is not for everybody; it is only for those who are willing to undergo the effort needed to understand it.
     —Flannery O’Connor

3. Write for your one ideal reader.
     —Kevin McIlvoy

4. Fiction is about everything human and we are made out of dust, and if you scorn getting yourself dusty, then you shouldn’t try to write fiction. It’s not a grand enough job for you.
     —Flannery O’Connor

5. Read 1,000 pages for every one you try to write.
     —Sherman Alexie

6. When you’re writing, you’re trying to find out something which you don’t know. The whole language of writing for me is finding out what you don’t want to know, what you don’t want to find out. But something forces you to anyway.  
     —James Baldwin

7. You most likely need a thesaurus, a rudimentary grammar book, and a grip on reality. This latter means: there’s no free lunch. Writing is work. It’s also gambling. You don’t get a pension plan. Other people can help you a bit, but essentially you’re on your own. Nobody is making you do this: you chose it, so don’t whine.
     —Margaret Atwood

8. The main rule of writing is that if you do it with enough assurance and confidence, you’re allowed to do whatever you like. (That may be a rule for life as well as for writing. But it’s definitely true for writing.) So write your story as it needs to be written. Write it honestly, and tell it as best you can. I’m not sure that there are any other rules. Not ones that matter.
     —Neil Gaiman

9. You write the book you want to read. That’s my rule.
     —Martin Amis

10. Tell the truth through whichever veil comes to hand, but tell it. Resign yourself to the lifelong sadness that comes from never being satisfied.
     —Zadie Smith

11. Don’t do this unless you think it is the closest thing to holy you have.  
     —Erin Stalcup