Jack Engelhard’s guide to writing: Writing is prayer

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NEW YORK, Thursday, February 27, 2014 — Tips on writing, from any writer, should be ignored.

But here we go anyway, from Jack Engelhard, the author of the international bestselling novel Indecent Proposal:

1. Keep it simple. What is the one thought you are trying to convey? Go for it cleanly.

2. Write for yourself. If you do not trust yourself, write for your best friend.

3. Do not write for the public. There is no such thing anyway.

4. Go ahead. Be opinionated. There is a good chance that you are right and the rest of the world is wrong. (This happens to me all the time.)

5. Never worry about bad reviews or spiteful comments. Recognize that there are quite a number of stupid people out there who think they should be heard. 

6. Every book – even a novel – is really a long newspaper article. That is where the word novel comes from – news. So the first task is to come up with a lede. Yes lede, for lead. Never mind why we put it like this. But once you have the opening thought, the rest follows. Moreover, every type of writing begins and ends with journalism – fact upon fact.

7. Drop the embellishments. Write the way you speak.

8. Do you like sex? If you are British or Jewish obviously you do not indulge.  Otherwise, fear not, but write it as if you invented it.

9. Write your heart out. After that, cut it by half. You will be amazed to find that by subtracting you are adding.

10. Free yourself from worrying how your book will end. A book is smart. It knows when it is done.

11. Never approach your typing unwashed. Remember, writing is prayer; writing is holiness.

12. Consider yourself special, but also typical. Whatever hurts you, hurts the entire world. You embody the universe. Your job is to light up the place.

13. Yes, the world is tumbling all around us. Nothing makes sense. Remember, a simple candle brightens a darkened room. Be humble, but remember that in a world gone berserk, we need you. But never mind the answers. The questions you ask are more important.

14. Surprise yourself from one page to the next. If you can’t surprise yourself, no way you can astonish your reader.

15. Write the outline to make your editor happy. Then discard.

16. Begin by approaching the mainstream (NY) publishers. After they have thanked you and rejected you, get it done by small press and/or digitally.

17. Read the classics. Then read the pulps. Read everything. Keep writing. Eventually you will find your own voice.

18. Study the movies. Screenplays show you how to condense.

19. Find the type of writing that suits you best. You are good at describing? Describe. You are good at dialogue? Do that. 

20. Are you sure you want to write a novel? If nothing but dialogue keeps happening, maybe you wrote a screenplay.

21. Do not be a perfectionist. Perfection never comes. So why wait? The Liberty Bell is most famous for its crack.

22. Be kind to yourself as you write. Imagine your mother peering over your shoulder as you type – not your mother-in-law.

23. Grammar is important, but people forgot to tell William Faulkner and James Joyce about this and they did okay.

24. You will find that virtually every paragraph that runs five sentences or more can and should be cut to two.

25. If you write a sentence and must think it over more than three times, it is sending you a signal that it does not work. So give it a fresh start.

26. Actors should never be caught acting. Same goes for writers. Never get caught writing.

But the first rule to remember is that you stand on the shoulders of literary giants who came before you, but still, you are on your own. 

Now shut up and write.

New from Jack Engelhard, the gambling novel: Compulsive and by popular demand the bonus edition of Slot Attendant: A Novel about a Novelist

Website: www.jackengelhard.com

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  • John W. Cassell

    Well said, Jack….. I would only add if you are more comfortable giving James Michener descriptions then do it……WRITE WRITE WRITE.
    BTW thanks for all I learned from you.

    I’d also add….. don’t give up smoking right before starting a novel.