C.S. Lewis: How to Write

I’ve recently been reading The Letters of C.S. Lewis, and enjoying it immensely.  The other day, I came across a letter to a young American schoolgirl who asked Lewis for writing advice.  Though I don’t agree with every point, I was thrilled to death to find advice from one of the best (and one of my favorite) writers in the past 100 years!

C.S. Lewis’s advice on writing:

1. Turn off the Radio

2. Read all the good books you can, and avoid nearly all magazines

3. 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.

4. 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…)

5. 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 needs to know – the whole picture is so clear in your own mind that you forget that it isn’t the same in his.

6.  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 is my best, is the re-writing of things begun and abandoned years earlier.

7. Don’t use a typewriter.  The noise will destroy your sense of rhythm, which still needs years of training.

8.  Be sure you know the meaning (or meanings) of every word you use

3 thoughts on “C.S. Lewis: How to Write

  1. Great advice! Especially the point about reading every sentence as if aloud. But I do hate writing everything with a fountain pen, what with ink splotches, having to stop and refill the thing, and the often scratchy pen points.

    • Yes, I know! It is really good advice – Lewis is one of my absolute favorites. Do you really write with fountain pens? I have once, and they’re nice, but I don’t think I could write a whole book with them. Just as a side note, though, I did write all of Valley in pencil. 🙂

      • I quit using fountain pens when ballpoints were invented; used them when I was a kid. But my Verizon rep let me sign my contract with a $150 fountain pen he uses. Says he just likes pretty things! Has another that cost over $200.

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