Writing Tips

If you like the writers you hear on Writers@WRUV, you just might want to hear what they have to say about writing: how they do it, how you can do it better and how any of us can succeed in a craft that is as frustrating as it is rewarding.

This page aims to give you sage advice from our sagey writers. If you have a writing question that you’d like answered, please leave a message below or e-mail us at writers@wruv.org.

Yours in the broadcast booth,


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Write Like a Jazz Musician

Read the full text here.

Advice from David Huddle and Suzi Wizowaty.

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Finding Your Literary Muse

Read the full text here.

Advice from Philip Baruth, Nancy Welch and Suzi Wizowaty.

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Honoring the Urge to Create

Read the full text here.

Advice from Greg Bottoms, Tina Escaja, Major Jackson and Tony Magistrale

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Trusting in Heritage and Voice

Read the full text here.

Advice from Angela Patten and Tina Escaja

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Remember:  You Were a Reader, Long Before You Were Ever a Writer

by Philip Baruth

There’s more to J.D. Salinger than The Catcher in the Rye.  Lots more. Some of Salinger’s best books involve a fictional family of child geniuses — the Glass family.  Raised by vaudeville performers, the Glass children appear regularly on a cutesy radio quiz show called “It’s a Wise Child” — but in private, at home, these children wrestle with the deepest questions known to man, spiritual questions, questions about human nature and the role of art.

The oldest Glass prodigy, Seymour, is the family poet and mystic; his younger brother Buddy is a short story writer, and Salinger’s alter-ego.  Buddy and Seymour have a special relationship:  they read and critique one another’s work, but not just with an eye to producing better poems and stories.  They use the writing to try to help each other lead better lives.

In “Seymour:  An Introduction,” Buddy remembers the best writing advice he ever got from his older brother:  “If only you’d remember before ever you sit down to write that you’ve been a reader long before you were ever a writer.  You simply fix that fact in your mind, then sit very still and ask yourself, as a reader, what piece of writing in all the world Buddy Glass would most want to read if he had his heart’s choice.  The next step is terrible, but so simple I can hardly believe it as I write it.  You just sit down shamelessly and write the thing yourself.”

It is terribly simple advice, but when I first read it, it was a revelation to me: I had spent a good chunk of my life writing the sort of books I thought I should be writing, but they were different in style and tone and content from the books I most loved to read and re-read.  I’ve read pretty much all of Faulkner, but I can say honestly that I’ve never once re-read one of the novels; they’re brutal and impressive, but nothing I feel the need to revisit.  I realized that I reach for comedy, for satire, for humor when I read, but that when I sat down to write I was trying desperately to be Faulkner, to be tragic and Literary.  And I wasn’t happy in the trying.  So I switched to writing the sort of thing I like to read, and for me at least — as another of my favorite writers put it — that has made all the difference.

But you can’t write about what you read, you argue.  You read mostly magazines for pleasure, let’s say, Rolling Stone and other music industry stuff.  Beautiful:  Nick Hornby wrote one of the funniest and most moving books of all time, High Fidelity, by channeling everything he knew about pop music into one broken-hearted rant.  Don Delillo and Peter Gent wrote great novels about the finer points of football.

But the point is not only to pick the subject of your reading for your writing; think about what style and language and genre you select when you have your “heart’s choice,” as Salinger puts it.  In my writing workshops, I usually spend the first five weeks convincing writers that they should drop the overblown diction and sentence structure they’ve reached for instinctively in their opening pieces.  It almost always turns out that it’s not anything like the prose style they tend to read; they just don’t enjoy writing it, and as a result they handle it imperfectly.

“Trust your heart,” the mystic tells his little brother, “you’re a deserving craftsman.  It would never betray you.”  Truer word was never spoken.

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