Reading, Writing

Stalking Authors: C. S. Lewis

First, I must try to convey to you the best I can at how excited I am for finally having the chance to start a new blog series.

The blog series, Stalking Authors, is consisted of four interview-style sessions with my four legendary authors.

The Ideal Bookham Routine:

8:00 Breakfast

9:00 Reading/Writing

11:00 Tea

1:00 Lunch

2:00 Solitary Walking (on rare occasion with a friend)

4:15 Solitary Tea with a “gossipy, formless book”

5:00 Reading/Writing

7:00 Evening Meal followed by talk or light reading

11:00 Lights out

Let me just comment: I love this routine! This is so well-organized, and except for me probably wanting to go to bed earlier (like 10 pm-ish), if I become a professor or retire, I would want to go with this routine.

Writing Advice:

  1. Get rid of distractions: “Turn off the radio.”
  2. Quality reading is vital: “Read all the good books you can, and avoid nearly all magazines.”
  3. Write and read with your ear: “Always write (and read) with the ear, not the eye. You shd. hear every sentence you write as if it was being read aloud or spoken. If it does not sound nice, try again.”
  4. Write what you love and interest you: “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. Clarity is vital: “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. Don’t throw away your work: “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 re-writing of things begun and abandoned years earlier.”
  7. Don’t type: “Don’t use a typewriter. The noise will destroy your sense of rhythm, which still needs years of training.” (For more on this, go here.)
  8. Understand every word you use: “Be sure you know the meaning (or meanings) of every word you use.”
  9. Don’t be ambiguous: “The way for a person to develop a style is to know exactly what he wants to say, and to be sure he is saying exactly that. The reader, we must remember, does not start by knowing what we mean. If our words are ambiguous, our meaning will escape him. I sometimes think that writing is like driving sheep down a road. If there is any gate open to the left or the right the reader will most certainly go into it.”
  10. Use clear language: “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.”
  11. Use plain words: “Always prefer the plain direct word to the long, vague one. Don’t implement promises, but keep them.”
  12. Use specific words: “Never use abstract nouns when concrete ones will do. If you mean ‘More people died’ don’t say ‘Mortality rose.’”
  13. Show, don’t tell: “Don’t use adjectives which merely tell us how you want us to feel about the things you are describing. I mean, instead of telling us the thing is ‘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.’”
  14. Don’t use big words for the sake of it: “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.”
  15. Advice for Christian writers: “We must not, of course, write anything that will flatter lust, pride or ambition. But we needn’t all write patently moral or theological work. Indeed, work whose Christianity is latent may do quite as much good and may reach some whom the more obvious religious work would scare away. The first business of a story is to be a good story. When Our Lord made a wheel in the carpenter shop, depend upon it: It was first and foremost a good wheel. Don’t try to ‘bring in’ specifically Christian bits: if God wants you to serve him in that way (He may not: there are different vocations) you will find it coming in of its own accord. If not, well—a good story which will give innocent pleasure is a good thing, just like cooking a good nourishing meal. . . . Any honest workmanship (whether making stories, shoes, or rabbit hutches) can be done to the glory of God.”

Wow. This basically covers all the basic writing questions I’ll ever have. Like, if I knew advice number six, I would still have at least three uncompleted work I would have loved to read again. (In a spit of fury and resentment, I’d thrown them into the trash after dramatically crumpling them. The worst thing a writer can ever do.)

I hope this was encouraging and helpful to you as it was for me. Are there any other Lewis fanatics out there? I would love to chat with you about C. S. Lewis’s writing life in the comments below. 

Until next week, comrades!

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