Write Good or Die
Write Good or Die

Write Good or Die

It means keeping it simple, stupid. Around the campfire, you have the advantage of no electricity, no satellite television, no Internet access, and usually an ice chest full of beer to help keep your audience’s attention, although you may have to roast a cell phone or two. You are also relaxed and spontaneous and can pour out your tale in a straightforward manner. (Location 272)

It means you’d better learn how to tell a story. And you need to be a hack. I say “hack” with all due reverence, and I believe it is the highest literary ambition possible. The popular image of a hack is someone who grinds out cheap paperbacks every three months, writes in multiple genres, and borrows and steals from every clichéd plot possible. To me, a hack is someone who is writing so freely and unselfconsciously that the material is flowing from some deep inner fountain, a place where true beliefs and feelings dwell. Such a story will automatically have resonance if you have learned enough of the basic writing skills to communicate your soul. (Location 277)

If you can avoid the grammatical bog of trying to wow English professors with your sentences, then you’re well on your way to getting the reader to turn one page and then the next. (Location 287)

Not that you shouldn’t occasionally challenge the reader, but most of us work plenty hard enough at our day jobs and the last thing we want is to sweat blood during our leisure time. (Location 290)

As writers, we are often tempted to impress other writers with our stylistic genius. Believe me, I’m still enough of an average reader to know that we don’t care about your genius. We want a story, we want it fast, and we want it to teach us something about being human. (Location 307)

Discipline gets the job done, as Malcolm Gladwell noted in his controversial book, Outliers. The musicians who put in more practice hours have more success than those who put in fewer hours. Same with athletes, and same with writers and almost everyone else in the arts. Both Bill Clinton and Barack Obama spent more time on the campaign trail in their initial successful Presidential bid than any of their opponents did—both in hours per day, and days per week. (Location 358)

But it’s not the big game that matters. It’s the practice. It’s sitting down to play scales for the 50,000th time because you need to warm up your hands before getting to Mozart. It’s the drudgery of the same thing every day, with no defined ending. (Location 374)

I was telling a friend, who is a professional fundraiser, about my dilemma. She laughed and told me that in her business the "no's" are a good thing. "For each "no" you are getting closer to a "yes," she said. She even had a mathematical equation she'd worked out from ten years of experience. She had to get 15 "no's" to get a "yes." And since she was asking for contributions for a worthwhile charity, her no-to-yes ratio would be lower than mine would. (Location 775)

So I was at some author event the other night and doing the chat thing with people at the pre-dinner cocktail party and found myself in conversation with an aspiring author who had just finished a book, and naturally I asked, “What’s your book about?” And she said–“Oh, I can’t really describe it in a few sentences– there’s just so much going on in it.” WRONG ANSWER. The time to know what your book is about is before you start it, and you damn well better know what it’s about by the time it’s finished and people, like, oh, you know - agents and editors, are asking you what it’s about. And here’s another tip–when people ask you what your book is about, the answer is not “War” or “Love” or “Betrayal”, even though your book might be about one or all of those things. Those words don’t distinguish YOUR book from any of the millions of books about those things. When people ask you what your book is about, what they are really asking is–“What’s the premise?” In other words, “What’s the story line in one easily understandable sentence?” That one sentence is also referred to as a “logline” (in Hollywood) or “the elevator pitch” (in publishing) or “the TV Guide pitch” – it all means the same thing. (Location 950)

That sentence really should give you a sense of the entire story: the character of the protagonist, the character of the antagonist, the conflict, the setting, the tone, the genre. And–it should make whoever hears it want to read the book. Preferably immediately. It should make the person you tell it to light up and say–“Ooh, that sounds great!” And “Where do I buy it?” Writing a premise sentence is a bit of an art, but it’s a critical art for authors, and screenwriters, and playwrights. You need to do this well to sell a book, to pitch a movie, to apply for a grant. You will need to do it well when your agent, and your publicist, and the sales department of your publishing house, and the reference librarian, and the Sisters in Crime books in print catalogue editor ask you for a one-sentence book description, or jacket copy, or ad copy. You will use that sentence over and over and over again in radio and TV interviews, on panels, and in bookstores (over and over and OVER again) when potential readers ask you, “So what’s your book about?” and you have about one minute to get them hooked enough to buy the book. (Location 961)

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