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Writers On Writing

April 19, 2022

Mark Twain is one of my all time favorite authors. Today, I thought I’d talk about some of his writing quotes.

“Write without pay until someone offers pay. If nobody offers within three years, the candidate may look upon this as a sign that sawing wood is what he was intended for.”

– Mark Twain

Early in my writing career my agent gave me some sage advice,

“If you want to get paid for something, don’t do it for free.”
– Barbara Bova

I don’t think the two quotes are completely at odds. Writers don’t start out being publishable. We often don’t start out being even readable. But, if a writer is willing to work at his (or her) craft, then we’ll get better.

I think Twain is saying, if after three years of getting better you still aren’t good enough. . .switch careers.

I’ve had the fortune to have more success than failure when it comes to writing. I never got a stack of rejection notices. But, even if I did, I think I’d still write. I just wouldn’t try to make a living at it.

“A successful book is not made of what is in it, but what is left out of it.”
– Twain

We all write. And as a writer it’s easy to “fix” a mistake by adding more words. But, that’s not the best way to strengthen a story. A story is like a fine steak. The more fat you cut off the more meat you have left. Knowing just how much to leave is the key. Deleting a carefully written scene because it doesn’t add to the story is called “killing your babies.” It’s really hard. When I wrote The Mercy System, I ended up cutting eight pages of introduction. It left a much stronger 15 page story. But, there was some real pain in making that cut.

“What what you know.”
– Twain

This is a hard one. You have to be able to find a story in what you know. I have worked with computers for decades. I recently wrote a short story about a programmer who falls in love with his neighbor. His computer gets jealous and tries to break them up. It’s what I know, but it’s not a story about programming. It’s a love story. . .that happens to have a computer cast as the villain.

Stay safe

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. Order Miscellany II, an anthology including his latest short story, “The Mercy System” here

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(c) 2022 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved

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