Quote It! Meg Cabot

“Write the kind of story you would like to read. People will give you all sorts of advice about writing, but if you are not writing something you like, no one else will like it either.”

–Meg Cabot, American author of romantic and paranormal fiction for teens and adults. Best known for The Princess Diaries.

This is an interesting variation on the standard writing advice to “write what you know.” It made me think about what I write. Am I writing what I’d like to read? I think I am.

I write stories about people on the cusp of some sort of emotional disaster—people who are walking a fine line between who they are and who God wants them to be.

What are your stories about? Are they written for you or for someone—or something—else?

Michael Ehret, for Writing on the Fine Line


Quote It! J.D. Salinger

“What really knocks me out is a book that, when you’re all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it. That doesn’t happen much, though.”

― J.D. Salinger, (January 1, 1919 – January 27, 2010) an American author best known for his novel, The Catcher in the Rye (1951),

Have you ever felt like Salinger? My favorite books—even when I re-read them—have me wishing I could call up Stephen King (The Stand) or J.R.R. Tolkein (The Lord of the Rings) and just chat. About the book, certainly, but also about nothing, as you do with only the best friends.

What makes me want to do that? I think it’s that the authors have put so much of themselves into their work. After spending that much time with them, I feel I know them—even though I don’t. That’s what we should aim for, though, as authors—to leave our readers with that emotion.

What do you think? What author and book has given you this feeling?

Michael Ehret, for Writing on the Fine Line

Quote It! Anton Chekhov

Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.

– Anton Chekhov, a Russian physician, dramatist, and author

Ah, the old “show, don’t tell” advice. Good advice never gets old, however. (Though some continue to rail against it.)

As is often the case, Grammar Girl makes the distinctions clear–including when writers should tell and not show.

What tips do you keep nearby to help you remember to show in your writing?

Michael Ehret, for Writing on the Fine Line

Quote It! Kelly Long’s Mom

Never kick a sleeping skunk.

— Kelly Long’s Mom

Mom’s have a lot of great advice. I’m sure we’ve all heard:

  • Money does not grow on trees.
  • Don’t make that face or it’ll freeze in that position.
  • Always change your underwear; you never know when you’ll have an accident.
  • Be careful or you’ll put your eye out.
  • If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.
  • Be careful what you wish for, it might come true.

We could go on–obviously.

But, I was intrigued by this bit of advice when Kelly shared it with me a couple weeks ago. Is there a writing application? What do you think?

Enter your writing related advice about kicking sleeping skunks below.

Michael Ehret, for Writing on the Fine Line

Quote It! F. Scott Fitzgerald / Neil Gaiman

Cut out all those exclamation marks. An exclamation mark is like laughing at your own joke.

– F. Scott Fitzgerald, an American author of novels and short stories

Laugh at your own jokes.

– Neil Gaiman, an English author of short fiction, novels, comic books, and graphic novels

Wow. Sometimes writing advice is so contradictory. What’s an aspiring author to do?

When advice seemingly contradicts, I find it helpful to approach it from a ‘Yes, and’ perspective. First of all, Gaiman is likely not referencing exclamation points–context is everything.

But, that doesn’t negate the benefit of ‘Yes, and’. Fitzgerald and Gaiman are both right–even if talking about exclamation points. In my writing (and editing), I favor eschewing exclamation points for the most part. However, in the right circumstance, they are positively necessary! But only in those rare circumstances.

What do you think? About exclamation points and contradictory writing advice?

Michael Ehret, for Writing on the Fine Line

Quote It! John Steinbeck

Abandon the idea that you are ever going to finish. Lose track of the 400 pages and write just one page each day, it helps. Then when it gets finished, you are always surprised.

– John Steinbeck, an American writer who won the Pulitzer Prize and the Nobel Prize.

Sometimes I do get frozen by the immensity of writing a novel. “400 pages? Really? How can anyone expect me to write 400 pages?”

But, sure, I can write one page today and another one tomorrow. Some days I may even be able to write more than one, but let’s not get crazy!

How do you put one word after another?

Michael Ehret, for Writing on the Fine Line

Quote It! Orson Scott Card

“Everybody walks past a thousand story ideas every day. The good writers are the ones who see five or six of them. Most people don’t see any.”

— Orson Scott Card, an American author primarily known for science fiction

Observation is a key writer’s trait. Sometimes I sit on my front porch and watch the world go by for hours–but that’s work!

In those hours, stories swarm. They get tested for plausibility–and most are rejected after noodling on them just a few moments. The ones that last … well, they last. Eventually they may be developed, but mostly they are just creativity’s food.

In what ways do you intentionally observe?

Michael Ehret, for Writing on the Fine Line

Quote It! Frederick Buechner

“But I talk about my life anyway because if, on the one hand, hardly anything could be less important, on the other hand, hardly anything could be more important. My story is important not because it is mine, God knows, but because if I tell it anything like right, the chances are you will recognize that in many ways it is also yours. (Emphasis added)

“Maybe nothing is more important than that we keep track, you and I, of these stories of who we are and where we have come from and the people we have met along the way because it is precisely through these stories in all their particularity…that God makes himself known to each of us most powerfully and personally.”

— Frederick Buechner, an American writer and theologian,
in Telling Secrets: A Memoir, page 30

Obviously I was struck by Buechner’s admission that his story, if told “anything like right” will be recognizable to others as their story.

Writers: What is your takeaway on this? What do you think Buechner means by anything like right? Share in the comments.

Michael Ehret, for Writing on the Fine Line

Quote It! Robert Louis Stevenson

“There is but one art, to omit! Oh, if I knew how to omit I would ask no other knowledge.”

Robert Louis Stevenson, 19th century author, best known for his novels Treasure Island and Kidnapped.

You know my love for tight writing. I am convinced knowing what not to include is far more important than what you do include.

Therefore I was surprised to recently run across this great quote from Stevenson that I’d never seen before. (Thanks to author Anita Higman for bringing it to my attention!)

Writers: What’s your best tip for writing tight, or, as Stevenson would say, for omitting? Share in the comments.

Michael Ehret, for Writing on the Fine Line

Quote It! Stephen King

“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”

― Stephen King

I have heard this said over and over by many different folks. Do you think it’s true? I do. The times in my life when I haven’t made the time to read, I also haven’t been very productive with my writing.

Right now I am reading Ken Follett’s marvelous book, The Pillars of the Earth, because a good friend nagged me sufficiently. Historical fiction is not my go to reading preference.

But this book is thoroughly engaging and it’s sparking my creativity in positive ways.

What are you reading right now? And why?

Michael Ehret, for Writing on the Fine Line