Writing tips from Kurt Vonnegut

House where Vonnegut lived while teaching in Iowa City

Write what you care about.

Do not ramble.

Keep it simple.

Free write but then have the guts to cut. Vonnegut said, “Kill your darlings.” Although this has been misinterpreted to mean including murder and sacrificing main characters in order to generate emotion, what he really meant was to avoid being so in love with your own words that you can’t trim your prose. Kill your conceit.

Say what you mean to say.

A writer is foremost a teacher. Make sure the reader can learn a little useless tidbit here and there.

Pity the Reader: Don’t be boring. Stick with one point of  view. Don’t hold back information for the sake of surprise. Take out deadwood such as boring exposition. Keep readers turning pages.

Sound like yourself, even if it’s Midwestern speech aka “a band saw cutting galvanized tin.”

Remember, you’re in the entertainment business.

Writing is difficult .”You have to sit there. It’s physically uncomfortable, it’s physically bad for someone to sit that long, it’s socially bad for a person to be alone so much. The working conditions are really bad. “

***

These are some of Kurt’s many observations and words of wisdom from a new compilation Pity The Reader, On Writing With Style. I’d characterize this book as being more an emotional support book and collection of inspirational reminders than a beginner’s guide on how to write a novel. However, a movated beginner would glean much wisdom from it.

For teaching beginners, I use Wired For Story. which covers the basics of storytelling. For more serious beginners I use, Writing Fiction, which could be a self-study course and is focused on craft. Pity The Reader is the book I’d use for an advanced course–if I ever get to teach one. It’s been described as “illuminating”, “a love song for the writing life,” and “a breeze to read.” For the moment, I’ll use it as therapy, and so should we all.

My Kurt Vonnegut “prayer” candle in the early winter light.

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