"The single wisest thing ever said about creative writing was this ..."

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It dismayed some readers. It delighted others. To me, it was one of the most interesting pieces we’ve published in the last year: Author and Boston University Creative Writing Program Director Leslie Epstein’s student tip sheet, “Tips for Writing and for Life.” Epstein has been adding to the list—tackling everything from ellipses to Picasso’s bulls—for two decades. Three highlights from the list make up the latest from Promptly's Top 20 Tips From WD in 2010 series. A regular prompt follows. Happy weekend.

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No. 4: Azure vs. Blue
“The single wisest thing ever said about creative writing was this, from Elsa Lasker-Schüler: 'A real poet does not say azure. A real poet says blue.' Of course Vladimir Nabokov practiced the opposite, and the greatest writer of the last century, Marcel Proust, never walked a straight line in his life. Genius is not only a special case, it is almost always a disastrous influence upon others. I am not saying that one ought not to take risks; there is a sense of daring in every fine story, but the risk is in the depth of psychological truth or the boldness of conception (Aristotle’s example of both is that tale in which a detective discovers the murderer of his father is himself) and not in empty experiments with technique or form."

“While not doing too much violence to your natural style, try to use as few adjectives and especially adverbs as possible. Be simple and direct, not convoluted and fancy. To paraphrase George Orwell, don’t use a pound word when a shilling word will do. Here are some other wise words from H.G. Wells on the same subject: 'I write as straight as I can, just as I walk as straight as I can, because that is the best way to get there.' "

“Don’t write with themes foremost in mind. Huck Finn is not 'about' the loss of innocence in America, or racial relations or sexual ambiguities; it is about a black man and a white boy going down a river on a raft."

—Leslie Epstein, “Tips for Writing and for Life,” March/April 2010, (click here to read the full article on writersdigest.com, or click here to check the rest of the issue out, which also features our economic survival guide)


WRITING PROMPT: Encapsulation
Feel free to take the following prompt home or post a
response (500 words or fewer, funny, sad or stirring) in the Comments section below.
By posting, you’ll be automatically entered in our
occasional around-the-office swag drawings.
you’re having trouble with the
captcha code sticking, e-mail your piece and the prompt to me at
writersdigest@fwmedia.com, with “Promptly” in the subject line, and I’ll
make sure it gets up.

The contents of the time capsule were, to say the least, baffling.


Also, what are you and your writing doing Jan. 21-23? Join us in New York for the Writer's Digest Conference.
We always have a blast, and it can be a great move for your craft and
career (at one of our recent events, agents Janet Reid and Andrea Hurst
signed clients, and went on to negotiate six-figure deals for them). On
tap this year:

  • Our signature agent pitch slam, featuring at least 57 agents representing a variety of genres and styles
  • Sessions on the future of publishing, craft, platform, social media, freelancing and much, much more
  • Panels and Q&As with agents and other pros
  • Our off-site poetry slam in SoHo.

Click here to learn more. Hope to see you there!