Writing Advice from George Orwell and Stephen King

medium_WritingAdvice_WritersWriteDear Ekphrasians:

As you get ready for the looming 3DNC weekend, here is very good writing advice from two good prose stylists.

In this article, Stephen King gives “22 Lessons On How To Be A Great Writer.” I especially like 6-8, and I love the schedule he has developed for writing a novel. 3 months to draft; 6 weeks off; and as long as it takes to rewrite. The best piece of advice is “22. Stay married, be healthy, and live a good life.” But that’s not just advice for writers; that’s advice for everybody. And if you’re not married, put in “choose healthy, inspiring friends.”

In “Politics and the English Language,” George Orwell talks mostly about having a good prose style. His advice is all super practical. Towards the end, he has this handy list:

  1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
  2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
  3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
  4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
  5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
  6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

I am going to try to keep these all in mind as I draft and later revise Ready-Made Grave. I hope you they are helpful to you in your drafting, too.

(P.S. Thanks to A Pilgrim in Narnia and Mere Inkling for reminding me of the Orwell piece this morning).




The #3DNC Plans of Andrew Stirling MacDonald

Reblogged from


Every Labor Day, a great many authors and author-hopefuls embark on a mad quest – attempting to write a novel in three days. It’s a sort of NaNoWriMo all compressed into one weekend of frantic, don’t-stop-writing-no-matter-how-silly-it-gets work. I will be joining several of my friends this year, and I will be trying to write a complete short story, or perhaps novella. I recently read (and reviewed!) The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch, and came away from the book very impressed with the way he made his city come to life. My goal with my novella is to make a part of my Noose world come to life in a comparable way. I have a few small ideas now, but I think I will be setting my story in the capitol city, following one main character and focusing on the part of the city in which he spends his time. I’m looking forward to the experience, and may publish the story here once I’ve edited the work.

Betsy’s 3DNC plans

10636080_700398716697654_7053503100358359142_nThe first time I heard the phrase, “Three Day Novel Contest”, my blood pressure skyrocketed. Just the thought of writing an entire work was terrifying, without having to do it in three days. But here I am, planning my third Labor-Day-Weekend getaway for that very same event. Let me give you some of the reasons I am able to survive this, and want to continue participating every year I can.
1. I have a great support system. In particular, the three friends I do the getaway with. We range from single, college-age to married college professor, but we all share one passion: writing. We offer each other encouragement, make each other take breaks when one of us is stressing, and even dish out some tough love if necessary (this usually manifests itself when one of us has had enough of the others’ shenanigans and needs to be isolated for a few hours).
2. We go to a relaxing location. Everyone has a different definition for “relaxing”, but for me it means my family’s cabin in the Pocono mountains. There’s no wi-fi or running water, and very spotty cell-power. This makes it impossible to be distracted by the ever-present internet, and allows us to fully enjoy the woods that surround us. I like to think the gurgling creek, the whispering of the wind, and the occasional wildlife we see all serves to inspire our writing in different ways.10556413_700398973364295_7621822969054447400_n
3. I have a plan. Or, half a plan. This year I did a full outline of the entire novel I am going to be working on. It isn’t very complicated, just bullet-points of what needs to happen in each chapter, but it will keep me on task and remind me of where I’m going in the story, should I get lost. My end-goal for the book is for it to be somewhere between 50 and 60 thousand words. I’m aiming to get around 30,000 written over Labor Day Weekend. I tend to have a very short attention span, so I work in spurts, broken up by tending the fire, making food, catching crayfish, etc.
I do plan to actually enter the contest eventually…this year I was intending to, but we decided to start Thursday night of Labor Day Weekend because of Sharon having a wedding to go to. I didn’t want to waste all that extra time, so did not pay the fee. Maybe next year.
I look forward to this year’s 3DNC, and hope all the others who participate have as much fun as I will!

Sharon’s 3DNC Plans

Here is Sharon’s 3DNC post, reblogged from her own site, Sacred Scars.

The Late Bloomer

In three weeks I will be joining three of my friends to participate in our yearly 3Day Novel Contest weekend. Various time constraints and the fact that none of us are officially joining the contests have us starting our weekend writing madness earlier than the standard 12:00 am Saturday morning.

This year I’ve got a wedding to break up my weekend, so unfortunately I’ll have less then 72 hours to write, but I am still very excited about it. What exactly I’ll be working on is still up in the air. There are two possibilities.

Possibility #1 is Love’s Labours Happily Ever After, a play that meshes Fairytale characters with Shakespearen plot lines from (not surprisingly) Love’s Labours LostMidsummer Night’s Dream, Macbeth, and As you Like it. This would be the more practical choice. I am hoping to have my theater group perform it Fall…

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The Beginnings

The Late Bloomer


Time for another Art Wednesday! These two pictures are from my second semester as an Art Major. The one of the left is my first painting from Painting 1. Our amazing professor, Bruce Wall, had an exciting still life set up, ready to be caputred in our view finders and painted onto our canvases.

I remember agonizing a long time over the particular section I wanted to paint. The “S” clearly had to be in the composition since it stood for my name, but I also wanted to paint the fedora that sat ontop of the styrofoam’s head that rests at the top of the picture. The “S” won out with the consulation that I would always know a fedora was present, even if it wasn’t pictured.

The Bicycle drawing is from my Drawing 2 class with Isadore LaDuca, another amazing professor. With it’s sharp constracts in shade and shape…

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3DNC: Sørina’s plan

3-day-novel-contest-journalHello, dear Ekphrasians and others! As I certainly hope you know, the Three-Day Novel Contest is coming right up! This is just what is sounds like: You write a novel. In three days.

This will be the third year that Ekphrasians have participated. I’ve asked each person from my fellowship who is joining 3DNC to write up a little post about his or her plans, goals, etc., for that weekend. Here’s mine.

Two years ago,  I spent 3DNC writing the first 30,000 words of The Four Senses. Then I finished writing it over that year. Last year, I spent most of 3DNC struggling against illness, and parts of it editing The Four Senses. (side note: now I plan to start that novel all over and rewrite it from scratch with a whole new narrative perspective! but that’s another story).

This year, four of us–me, Sharon, Marian, Betsy–plan to spend September 4th-7th away in the woods, without internet or cell service, in Betsy’s beautiful little hunting cabin. There, with electricity but without running water, we will write for 72 hours straight (with breaks for sleeping, eating, swimming, walking, and watching BBC television shows), with the goal of pounding out rough drafts or edited versions of our novels-in progress.

I didn’t sign up for the official 3DNC contest, which is a shame. I missed the early discount price, and the $50 to register is a bit steep. In spite of that, I plan to write at least half of a novel in the weekend.

woodlawnIt will be my first murder mystery. It’s entitled Ready-Made Grave, and it’s set in a beautiful cemetery. Here’s the premise: 13 members of a local artists’ fellowship (sound familiar?) meet at a cemetery to spend the day on a “field trip.” The idea is that the lovely landscaping, gorgeous sculptured memorials, peaceful setting, and sense of surrounding mortality will inspire them to make great art that day. They have gotten permission to play music, take pictures, and stay inside the grounds a few extra hours after other visitors have left and the gates have been locked for the evening. So thirteen strange, creative, eccentric people find themselves together for an artistic and literary adventure.

It seems like a great idea. The weather is perfect: a glorious July day. Several members have a good morning: sketching, writing, doodling, taking photos, having good conversations. But they haven’t left their problems outside the gate, and the tension builds as each of them lurches towards an aesthetic, sexual, or spiritual crisis. By lunchtime, moods have soured. There have already been betrayals, confusions, and moments of despair. All afternoon, this intensity continues. Some have brilliant, inspired artistic break-throughs. Others find themselves broken, or breaking something or someone else.

Evening falls. The setting grows quieter as other visitors are locked out. Our creative friends spend their last few hours in individual pursuits: drawing, dancing, playing transcendent music, falling in love, falling out of love, tumbling into despair, soaring out-of-body, getting high, getting laid, getting lost.

And then they find they are all locked in. The high walls loom ominously. Cell service (always unreliable here) has ceased altogether.

That is the moment at which one of them comes running from across the cemetery, crying, calling out to them that one of their number is dead. They gather around the body, which lies in a freshly-dug grave. As they stand around it, they realize one of their number must have killed him. And here they are, locked in together, no cell service, wall too high to climb–and a fierce thunderstorm gathering.

The 12 suspects take refuge in a large mausoleum, where they spend the whole night in mutual accusations, incriminations, and investigations. By the time morning dawns…. Well, you’ll have to read Ready-Made Grave and see what happens and who dunnit.

10396971_10204404368292214_5713215754949200709_oI hope to write at least 30,000 words, and would dearly love to write the first half of the book–up to the death. That means lots more planning: outlining, writing chapter summaries, planning locations, learning how to use Scrivener, and filling up my Moleskine with notes. But since I’m editing an academic essay-collection, planning for the course I’ll be precepting, reading and blogging about Charles Williams, and getting ready to roll out a huge super-secret project, I don’t know how much I will actually have prepared! If you are doing 3DNC, please leave a comment below telling about your experiences in the past and/or your plans for this year. Cheers.

Here's a great comic I stole from http://www.jakewallissimons.com/download-3-day-novel/:

Here’s a great comic I stole from http://www.jakewallissimons.com/download-3-day-novel/: