According to Elmore Leonard, aspiring writers should avoid using adverbs (“a mortal sin”). Zadie Smith says they should “work on a computer that is disconnected from the internet.” Roddy Doyle tells them, “Do not place a photograph of your favorite author on your desk, especially if the author is one of the famous ones who committed suicide.” And William Faulkner once famously said that anyone who wants to be a writer should be a reader first: “Read, read, read everything — trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read!” Some authors, like Roxane Gay, offer advice on Twitter; others, like Stephen King and Anne Lamott, have written entire books on the subject.
Earlier this month J.K. Rowling posted some tips on her website. “I haven’t got 10 rules that guarantee success, though I promise I’d share them if I did,” she wrote. “The truth is that I found success by stumbling off alone in a direction most people thought was a dead end, breaking all the 1990s shibboleths about children’s books in the process.”
Rowling listed the various qualities a writer needs to have — discipline, resilience, humility, courage and independence — but stressed, like Faulkner, that anyone serious about writing books should also be a voracious reader. “You can’t be a good writer without being a devoted reader.”
Christopher Paolini, whose new novel, “The Fork, the Witch, and the Worm,” enters the Y.A. list this week at No. 1, devotes an entire section on his website to advice for budding authors. He’s also a big believer in the importance of reading; fans can find lists of his favorite books, which include Brian Jacques’s Redwall series and Ursula K. Le Guin’s “A Wizard of Earthsea.”
Delia Owens, whose debut novel “Where the Crawdads Sing” has recaptured the top spot, has said that budding novelists should give their imaginations free rein. “You can always pull back, take a more conservative course. But why not soar for a while just to see what happens? … To me writing fiction is like riding a horse through the gate and into the mountains.” John Grisham, whose novel “The Reckoning” is No. 3, summarized his advice in a 2017 piece for The Times. “Don’t write a prologue,” he wrote. “Prologues are usually gimmicks to hook the reader. Avoid them.” And “use quotation marks with dialogue. Please do this. It’s rather basic.”
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