Advice to Aspiring Writers from PD James

27 May 2012

PD James‘ memoir, Time to be in Earnest (1997, London: Faber & Faber) reminds me greatly of the writing style of Elizabeth Jane Howard in her memoir, Slipstream, in that they can both make the most mundane of daily activities quite mesmerizing.

Nary a redundant phrase to be had.

James’ memoir is a diary she kept in 1997 but she refers back to her previous life a lot which makes it all the more interesting.

She reports that she and John Fowles were talking about fan-mail; he said if they ask us ‘how to be a writer’ then they should forget about it there and then!


I suppose that is like asking Tiger Woods how to be a golfer.

Put like that, you can see where amateur writings are misguided.

Apparently many people send manuscripts to these authors in the hope of getting them published!

This again confirms my belief that many would-be writers have a highly inflated view of their talent.

On page 187 of PD James’ memoir she says that writing cannot be taught to just anyone who does not have the knack; they can be schooled in technique, which is my view also (see title of this blog site!).

She goes on to list some recommendations to aid the writing process for aspiring authors which I have summarised below:

Read widely, not to copy others, but to learn to appreciate and recognize  good writing and see how the best writers have achieved their results. 

However, she warns that poor writing is infections so try to avoid it!

Practise writing in whatever form;and write rather than just talk about it (which is what many of us do, ad evidenced by the various writing forums).

Increase your vocabulary since your raw material is words. I would add my own idea here that writing is not about stringing lots of adjectives together or sprinkling the writing with endless adverbs.

Finally, welcome experience which means going around constantly on the lookout for information about others and everything around you – all grist to the mill!

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