Elmore Leonard on Writing

Following up on Rufus’ Complete Idiot’s Guide, another book on writing that might be worthwhile is the recently published Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing. He was interviewed recently by U.S. News & World Report. The following exchange made me a little uneasy:

Newman The Internet gives more people a forum for writing, a place for expressing themselves. Does this seem meaningful to you?

Leonard It sounds like a lot of people wasting time, to me. So many people say, “I’m dying to write.” Well, if you’re dying to write, why aren’t you writing? If you’re not writing, you’re not dying to do it enough. Writing to me is such a pleasure. It’s hard, but it’s so satisfying.

Actually, writing is a great pleasure for me as well – even if Quentin Tarantino isn’t turning Bird’s Nest into a blockbuster movie. But I’ve also come to realize writing is a necessity, even if I haven’t made any money from it. I couldn’t not write any more than I could stop breathing.

The trick is going to be writing things that other people wan’t to read. But what other people? To write for people that enjoy reading Elmore Leonard or Micky Spillane; in other words, to write an Elmore Leonard or a Micky Spillane novel – that seems like a bit of a dead end as well. Or to write like Percy or Yates or Yeats . . . we all have our models, many of us have the same models, but it’s our very lives that whatever we write depends on most.

Somewhere else Leonard said that if you want to write, write, and if you write well enough you’ll be discovered. I don’t have as much confidence in that statement as I used to, but the imperative remains: If you want to write, well write. Write well.

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