On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

I read this over a decade ago and it kept coming up lately so I did a highly satisfying re-read. Best writing lesson he got from his first job writing for a local newspaper, condensing and simplifying. “When you write a story you’re telling yourself the story. When you rewrite, your main job is taking out all the things that are not the story.”

He defends his own category of blockbuster writing and talks about critics being suspicious of popular success… “suspicions used as an excuse not to think. No one can be as intellectually slothful as a really smart person; give smart people half a chance and they will ship their oars and drift… dozing to Byzantium, you might say.”

Basically you gotta see or hear clearly, then describe to your reader. Practice, honesty. Back story: everyone has a history and most of it isn’t interesting.

Other bits: Trollope invented the red mail pillars during his day job as a mail clerk in the 1850s. Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch is the originator of “Murder your darlings” as writing advice.