A condensed version of a blog written by my man David Mullen:
An Outline of Wordsmithy: Hot Tips for the Writing Life by Douglas Wilson.
Chapter 1: A Veritable Russian Doll of Writing Tips
Know something about the world, and by this I mean the world outside of books. This might require joining the Marines, or working on an oil rig, or as a hashslinger at a truck stop in Kentucky. Know what things smell like out there.
1. Real life duties should be preferred over real life tourism.
2. Authenticity in writing will only arise from authenticity in living.
3. Always remember that your writing will have a message.
4. Use your conversations to hone your writing voice, and not the other way around.
5. When you are out and about, you are watching the gaudy show called life and are trying to learn from it.
6. Live an actual life out there, a full life, the kind that will generate a surplus of stories.
7. Enjoy yourself.
Chapter 2: Read Until Your Brain Creaks
Read. Read constantly. Read the kind of stuff you wish you could write. Read until your brain creaks. Tolkien said that his ideas sprang up from the leaf mold of his mind. These are the trees where the leaves come from.
1. The first thing is that writers should be voracious readers.
2. Read widely.
3. Read like a reader and not like someone cramming for a test.
4. Read like a lover of books and not like someone who wants to be seen as knowledgeable, or well-read, or scholarly.
5. Pace yourself in your reading
6. As a general pattern, read quality literature, and go “slumming” occasionally to remind yourself what quality is and why quality matters.
7. Read widely enough that you are not provincial, but not so widely that you become some sort of deracinated cosmopolitan.
Chapter 3: Word Fussers and Who-whomers
Read mechanical helps. By this I mean dictionaries, etymological histories, books of anecdotes, dictionaries of foreign phrases, books of quotations, books on how to write dialog, and so on. The plot will usually fail to grip, so just read a page a day. If you think it makes you out to be too much of a word-dork, then don’t tell anybody about it.
1. Read boring books on writing mechanics.
2. Collect and read dictionaries.
3. Read books of complaint about the decline of our language by the word fussers and who-whomers, and read the hilarious refutations of those word fussers by word libertines.
4. Read etymological histories, histories of idioms and phrases, and dictionaries of word roots.
5. Read books and manuals that help you gain mastery of your word processing program, whatever that is.
6. Read books of quotations and anecdotes.
7. Read wordcraft books.
Chapter 4: Born for the Clerihew
Stretch before your routines. If you want to write short stories, try to write Italian sonnets. If you want to write a novel, write a few essays. If you want to write opinion pieces for the Washington Post, then limber up with haiku.
1. This helps to keep the content vibrant.
2. If you are in a position to do so, which usually means that you are young enough, make sure to get a thorough and broad liberal arts education.
3. You may discover that your wordsmithing gift was centered in the wrong spot.
4. Trying your hand at different forms helps to fend off flattery.
5. The gift of language is one of the most versatile tools imaginable.
6. Allusion is lovely, and experience with other forms brings the ability to use that device persuasively.
7. I have long said that good teaching consists of loving the subject you are teaching in the presence of students whom you also love.
Chapter 5: The Memoirs of Old Walnut Heart
Be at peace with being lousy for a while. Chesterton once said that anything worth doing was worth doing badly. He was right. Only an insufferable egoist expects to be brilliant first time out.
2. If a striking expression hits you, don’t hold back because you are writing an email to your sister.
3. Make sure you don’t have a faulty and deterministic view of talent.
4. If you are good with practice runs, if you are okay with not being as good as you are going to be, if you see the need for playing in the minors, then it should follow that you are emotionally prepared for negative feedback.
5. Speaking of criticism, your enemies will sometimes be more accurate, more perceptive, and more to the point than your mom.
6. Openness to criticism is not the same thing as that faux-humility that prepares to inflict itself on everybody with absolutely no reason to do so.
7. Remember that relative competence cannot be universal, and that this applies to your critics, reviewers, editors, and publishing houses as much as to you.
Chapter 6: Ancient Roman Toddlers
Learn other languages, preferably languages that are upstream from ours. This would include Greek, Latin, and Anglo-Saxon. The brain is not a shoebox that “gets full,” but is rather a muscle that expands its capacity with increased use. The more you know the more you can know. The more you can do with words, the more you can do. As it turns out.
1. God approves of translation, and by this I am referring to the process of translation.
2. Learning languages is a very good way to learn your language, even if you don’t go on to speak fluently whatever language it was you thought you were learning.
3. Learning different languages helps a writer get a firm grasp of grammar in the abstract.
4. At the same time, be judicious and thoughtful in what you transfer from one language to another.
5. All this is being recommended as an aid to English.
6. One key to good writing is to have a wide-ranging vocabulary.
7. This certainly involves extra work, but it doesn’t take up extra room.
Chapter 7: Uncommon Commonplaces
Keep a commonplace book. Write down any notable phrases that occur to you, or that you have come across. If it is one that you have found in another writer, and it is striking, then quote it, as the fellow said, or modify it to make it yours. If Chandler said that a guy had a cleft chin you could hide a marble in, that should come in useful sometime. If Wodehouse said somebody had an accent you could turn handsprings on, then he might have been talking about Jennifer Nettles of Sugarland. Tinker with stuff. Get your fingerprints on it.
1. The writer’s life is a scavenger’s life.
2. It is dishonest to take the wit and wisdom of others and represent it as your own.
3. These concerns have led to the saying that if you steal from one person, it’s plagiarism, but if you steal from many, it’s research.
4. Having a commonplace book does not mean that you will use everything in your commonplace book.
5. Don’t be afraid to learn from your own typos.
6. Don’t shy away from a striking phrase, even if it has been promoted into a cliché.
7. When you collect phrases, points, metaphors, and what-not in this way, you are, as Cicero used to put it, loaded for bear.