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William Boyd: my advice for budding authors

16 September 2015

From The Guardian

With 17 novels, a James Bond reboot, short stories and multiple screenplays under his writerly belt, is it an odd question to ask why William Boyd writes? He answers quickly and wryly: “It is a good question and a hard one. Basically, I can’t imagine doing anything else.”


At a Guardian Live event for his latest book Sweet Caress he spoke to critic Alex Clark about his career, peppering his reflections with advice for would-be writers.


1. Can you write?

So far, so obvious. “You have to be able to write well,” Boyd said. “Not stylishly. You have to be able to express your thoughts in a manner other people can understand. You could write simply – something like James Joyce’s Dubliners, with a very limpid prose – or you could write a Finnegan’s Wake. But you have to be able to write: if you can’t, stop.”


4. Do you have the stamina?

“There are rare examples of authors nailing it on novel one, but a whole creative career is a long haul. It takes so long to write a novel, so if you don’t have the stamina, don’t do it,” Boyd said. “I know a lot of poets who think about becoming novelists, but then say: ‘But I can write a poem in an afternoon.’ You can’t do that with novels.”


But I write with confidence – I never wonder what will happen next. Iris Murdoch said there is a period of invention and a period of composition – I have borrowed that for myself.”

Read the rest here.

From Guest Blogger Randall

Beautiful Writing, Bestsellers, Creativity, Writing Advice

11 Comments to “William Boyd: my advice for budding authors”

  1. I have yet to read any good advice from the Guardian. Quite the opposite, in fact.


  2. My advice to budding authors: NEVER believe a single source of writing advice, not even me. ESPECIALLY not me.

    The chances that it will be perfect for you are vanishingly small, and it will keep you from exploring widely if you think someone knows the ‘one true path.’

    Much as I love Laurence Block’s Telling Lies for Fun and Profit, it cost me YEARS of my writing life. Why? Because he is a pantser extraordinaire, and I am an extreme plotter.

    • I have that book, and you’re right. He also mentions that he has a file cabinet full of busted books because he is a pantser.

      Considering how many books he has pushed out, it make you wonder what he would have done if he had plotted!

    • That’s one of the biggest problems with beginning writers. They listen to one person or one type of advice and it might be the wrong advice.

      I might pick up Block’s book, because I’m a pantser. I was lucky because although lots of advice said you should outline, I never did. The closest I get is a few pages of scribbled notes.

  3. Heh, someone was even foolish enough to ask my advice on writing, I gave them a few things that seem to work for me, but I ended it with this note:

    So take everything I’ve said – and do the exact opposite, you won’t be wrong often – but when you are it’ll be a doozy!

    Like everything else, different strokes for different folks … 😉

  4. My advice to budding writers: Learn to write coherently/competently, and then experiment to see what works for you from which “rules” to break, genre to publishing path choice, to marketing.

    Once you find what works for you, do that.

    Ignore anything that doesn’t personally work for you.

    • “Learn to write coherently/competently”

      The problem, sad to say, is that people who can write coherently/competently, know when they are doing so (and when they aren’t), where as people who CANNOT write coherently/competently do NOT know when they are not doing so, which for them is usually.

      Thus, the advice is worthless. Those that can, do, and those that cannot, don’t know that they cannot.

  5. My advice to would-be writers?

    Try it. Try it different ways. Learn about how lots of different writers write, and see if any of those ways work for you. And don’t be timid about your writing. Take the risks that speak to you.

  6. My advice to wannabees: How to get my job.

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