C.S. Lewis’s advice on writing (taken from his letters):
- Turn off the Radio. (Stephen King says to turn off the television while Zadie Smith says to turn off the Internet!)
- Read all the good books you can, and avoid nearly all magazines.
- Always write (and read) with the ear, not the eye. You should hear every sentence you write as if it was being read aloud or spoken. If it does not sound nice, try again.
- Write about what really interests you, whether it is real things or imaginary things, and nothing else. (Notice this means that if you are interested only in writing you will never be a writer, because you will have nothing to write about…)
- When you give up a bit of work don’t (unless it is hopelessly bad) throw it away. Put it in a drawer. It may come in useful later. Much of my best work, or what I think my best, is the rewriting of things begun and abandoned years earlier.
- Don’t use a typewriter. The noise will destroy your sense of rhythm, which still needs years of training. (This would not apply to computers.)
- Always try to use the language so as to make quite clear what you mean and make sure your sentence couldn’t mean anything else. Take great pains to be clear. Remember that though you start by knowing what you mean, the reader doesn’t, and a single ill-chosen word may lead him to a total misunderstanding. In a story it is terribly easy just to forget that you have not told the reader something that he wants to know – the whole picture is so clear in your own mind that you forget that it isn’t the same in his.
- Always prefer the plain direct word to the long, vague one. Don’t implement promises, but keep them.
- Never use abstract nouns when concrete ones will do. If you mean “more people died” don’t say “mortality rose.”
- Don’t use adjectives which merely tell us how you want us to feel about the thing you are describing. I mean, instead of telling us a thing was “terrible,” describe it so that we’ll be terrified. Don’t say it was “delightful”: make us say “delightful” when we’ve read the description. You see, all those words (horrifying, wonderful, hideous, exquisite) are only like saying to your readers “Please will you do my job for me.”
- Don’t use words too big for the subject. Don’t say “infinitely” when you mean “very”: otherwise you’ll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite.
- Be sure you know the meaning (or meanings) of every word you use.
I love how clear his writing is and how he uses the right word almost every time. He rarely overwrites or writes to show off.
Both Orwell and Hemingway would go further than Lewis and say to avoid adjectives altogether as much as possible. So would Somerset Maugham and Jonathan Swift, given how they wrote.