Writing Tips from Joyce Carol Oates

This afternoon, Joyce Carol Oates took to Twitter and dispensed ten bits of writing advice:

10) Write your heart out.

9) Read, observe, listen intensely!–as if your life depended upon it.

8) Don’t try to anticipate an ideal reader–or any reader. He/ she might exist–but is reading someone else.

7) Be your own editor/ critic. Sympathetic but merciless!

6) Unless you are experimenting with form–gnarled, snarled & obscure–be alert for possibilities of paragraphing.

5) When in doubt how to end a chapter, bring in a man with a gun. (This is Raymond Chandler’s advice, not mine. I would not try this.)

4) Keep in mind Oscar Wilde: “A little sincerity is a dangerous thing, and a great deal of it is absolutely fatal.”3

3) You are writing for your contemporaries–not for Posterity. If you are lucky, your contemporaries will become Posterity.

2) The first sentence can be written only after the last sentence has been written. FIRST DRAFTS ARE HELL. FINAL DRAFTS, PARADISE.

1) Write your heart out.

I also enjoyed her addendum about writing workshops: “Something magical can happen in a writing workshop. Don’t know why–but I have seen it countless times: writers are inspired by one another.” I think it’s not just inspiration, but accountability that matters. When you’re presenting your ideas to (with) others, you feel compelled to do a good job (rather than procrastinate or give up altogether).

The best writing book I’ve ever read is Stephen King’s On Writing. Much of the advice from Joyce Carol Oates’s is explained deeply in King’s book.

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