William Faulkner: “Let the writer take up surgery or bricklaying if he is interested in technique.”

From “20 Pieces of Writing Advice from William Faulkner,” posted in 2017 at lithub.com.

On “being a writer”:

“Don’t be ‘a writer’ but instead be writing. Being ‘a writer’ means being stagnant. The act of writing shows movement, activity, life. When you stop moving, you’re dead. It’s never too soon to start writing, as soon as you learn to read.” (from an interview excerpted in The Daily Princetonian, 1958)

On the best training for writing:

“Read, read, read. Read everything—trash, classics, good and bad; see how they do it. When a carpenter learns his trade, he does so by observing. Read! You’ll absorb it. Write. If it’s good, you’ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out of the window.” (from a 1947 interview with The Western Review)

On technique:

“Let the writer take up surgery or bricklaying if he is interested in technique. There is no mechanical way to get the writing done, no shortcut. The young writer would be a fool to follow a theory. Teach yourself by your own mistakes; people learn only by error. The good artist believes that nobody is good enough to give him advice. . .” (from a 1956 interview with The Paris Review)

On style:

“I did not develop [my style]. I think style is one of the tools of the craft, and I think anyone that spends too much of his time about his style, developing a style, or following a style, probably hasn’t got much to say and knows it and is afraid of it, and so he writes a style. . .” (from a 1957 q&a with University of Virginia writing students)


  1. From an earlier About Editing and Writing post by Mike Feinsilber:

    Back when I was the writing coach for the Washington bureau of the AP, I wrote a memo about the overuse of adjectives. A particular target was the word “very,” which I argued performs contrarily to the writer’s intention—it dilutes what the writer intended to underscore.

    Adjectives (and adverbs) are generally unneeded. Adjectives exaggerate. They invite skepticism, maybe even cynicism. They undercut the we’re-in-this-together partnership that should exist between writer and reader. They take away the reader’s role.

    That’s especially the case with conclusionary adjectives which try to describe the situation as a whole. When you tell the reader that the situation is dramatic, amazing, unprecedented, historic, a landmark, or extraordinary, you’ve taken from the reader his or her opportunity to think, “This is extraordinary.” There goes the writer/reader partnership.

    Your sixth grade English teacher said it first: Show don’t tell.

  2. Eugene Carlson says

    Surprising and embarrassing how many times “very” wormed its way into my stuff. Realized this when I made a conscious effort to scrub it on every rewrite.

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