C. S. Lewis Offers Advice to Writers
C.S. Lewis continues to sell tens of thousands of books each year, even though he died of natural causes in England back on the same day that John F. Kennedy was shot in Dallas, November 22, 1963.
Most people are familiar with his seven-book children’s series called the Chronicles of Narnia. They made movies of some of those books.
He also wrote scholarly books about Medieval and Renaissance Literature.
Why books on literature? Well, for 30 years he was a professor of literature at Oxford University and only left there because he was awarded chair of Medieval and Renaissance Literature at Cambridge University, England’s other premier university.
One of his best friends was JRR Tolkien. They use to regularly hang out and drink and talk at an Oxford pub called the Eagle and Child with other members of an informal writing group called the Inklings.
So, what kind of practical advice did he offer writers? Here are eight ideas he shared with a young aspiring writer who wrote him a letter. I’ve added my own comments to his statements.
“Turn off the radio,” he said. Of course, today he would say turn off the TV, music or the Internet. The point is, some people think that distractions–even background music — are not bad. Lewis disagreed. He put a premium on unfettered concentration.
Read good books, Lewis advised. This is a great principle. If you’re interested in writing good books then you need to read good books. Feed your mind with quality material and you’ll be more likely to be able to mimic it in your own work.
Write for Readers
“Write with your ear, not the eye. Make every sentence sound good.” This is Lewis’ most important rule in my view. There is a cadence to good writing and it’s important that you discover it for yourself. use the best grammar you can, but don’t let it dictate what you say or how you say it.
Lewis said, “Write only about things that interest you. If you have no interests, you won’t ever be a writer.” There is one thing that is common to all successful writers. They are insatiably curious.
Clarity is King
Lewis said, “Be clear. Remember that readers can’t know your mind. Don’t forget to tell them exactly what they need to know to understand you.” Also, remember that it’s hard to be clear in the first draft. That’s why rewriting is so important. That’s where writers get the clarity they seek.
Save Your Creativity
Lewis advised the aspiring writer to “Save odds and ends of writing attempts, because you may be able to use them later.” I was so glad when I discovered Lewis was an advocate of this. Good writers are always recycling their work. I have always done that.
Seek Word Rhythm
Lewis said, “You need a well-trained sense of word-rhythm, and the noise of a typewriter will interfere.” Not many people use a typewriter anymore, but the principle applies to computer keyboards. Lewis wrote with pen and paper. Let me say this whole idea of word rhythm is why I think voice writing is so important. I have a compete online course about how you can dictate your book. Voice writing has revolutionized my writing quality and productivity.
Build Your Vocabulary
“Know the meaning of every word you use,” he said. I say, make a hobby us learning new words and using them in your writing. Don’t overpower your readers with fancy words, but have word knowledge so you can use the best word to increase clarity.
C.S. Lewis was a university professor. Yet, he had the ability to reach all kinds of minds with different types of books, including the ability to fascinate children with his stories. The lesson in that is any person can reach any group when they hone their writing skills.