Tips on writing through joy, futility and despair  

Do not write for the public. There is no such thing anyway, says i novelist.

Jack Engelhard

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צילום: מתוך האתר האישי

The master class on writing, which these days I only teach now and then, asked me to sit in during what they called an emergency.

This would be like a writer making house calls.

So I went and had never seen so many downcast students all in one room – and all of it because a book full garbage had become a bestseller. In fact, number one, even before it was officially released.

They had all read my Arutz Sheva column about Omarosa (the worst mistake Trump ever made) and were distraught that someone like that could even get published.

Susan asked, “What hope is there for those of us who stick to it through blood, sweat and tears with nothing to show but rejections?”  

That was rhetorical, of course, and she was speaking for the entire class -- but I could understand their despair.   

On the bright side, some of them had succeeded, thanks, they said, to the class. So some of my teachings had paid off.

On that score, and since they needed some cheering up, would I please go over my 26 tips on writing that over the years sometimes ran as “Writing is prayer.”

I did not disagree with Susan and the rest of them that those tips had become a standard and even a classic.

“Given the unholy circumstances,” said Susan, “you owe it to writers everywhere, to share those tips again.”

Good word unholy, given the fix we’re in throughout the country.

Someone else added, “Writers down on their luck need to be reminded that there’s always a chance for quality writing to succeed.”

It was thought that tip #4 was most encouraging and most valuable to all, though everyone seemed to have a different favorite.

Okay. I’m in. So I’m sharing, as follows --  

Novelist Jack Engelhard’s tips on writing when writing is prayer

1. Keep it simple. What is the one thought you are trying to convey? Go for it cleanly.

2. Write for yourself. If you do not trust yourself, write for your best friend.

3. Do not write for the public. There is no such thing anyway.

4. Go ahead. Be opinionated. There is a good chance that you are right and the rest of the world is wrong. (This happens to me all the time.)

5. Never worry about bad reviews or spiteful comments. Recognize that there are quite a number of stupid people out there who think they should be heard. 

6. Every book – even a novel – is really a long newspaper article. That is where the word novel comes from – news. So the first task is to come up with a lede. Yes lede, for lead. Never mind why we put it like this. But once you have the opening thought, the rest follows. Moreover, every type of writing begins and ends with journalism – fact upon fact.

7. Drop the embellishments. Write the way you speak.

8. Do you like sex? If you are British or Jewish obviously you do not indulge.  Otherwise, fear not, but write it as if you invented it.

9. Write your heart out. After that, cut it by half. You will be amazed to find that by subtracting you are adding.

10. Free yourself from worrying how your book will end. A book is smart. It knows when it is done.

11. Never approach your typing unwashed. Remember, writing is prayer; writing is holiness.

12. Consider yourself special, but also typical. Whatever hurts you, hurts the entire world. You embody the universe. Your job is to light up the place.

13. Yes, the world is tumbling all around us. Nothing makes sense. Remember, a simple candle brightens a darkened room. Be humble, but remember that in a world gone berserk, we need you. But never mind the answers. The questions you ask are more important.

14. Surprise yourself from one page to the next. If you can’t surprise yourself, no way you can astonish your reader.

15. Write the outline to make your editor happy. Then discard.

16. Begin by approaching the mainstream (NY) publishers. After they have thanked you and rejected you, get it done by small press and/or digitally.

17. Read the classics. Then read the pulps. Read everything. Keep writing. Eventually you will find your own voice.

18. Study the movies. Screenplays show you how to condense.

19. Find the type of writing that suits you best. You are good at describing? Describe. You are good at dialogue? Do that. 

20. Are you sure you want to write a novel? If nothing but dialogue keeps happening, maybe you wrote a screenplay.

21. Do not be a perfectionist. Perfection never comes. So why wait? The Liberty Bell is most famous for its crack.

22. Be kind to yourself as you write. Imagine your mother peering over your shoulder as you type – not your mother-in-law.

23. Grammar is important, but people forgot to tell William Faulkner and James Joyce about this and they did okay.

24. You will find that virtually every paragraph that runs five sentences or more can and should be cut to two.

25. If you write a sentence and must think it over more than three times, it is sending you a signal that it does not work. So give it a fresh start.

26. Actors should never be caught acting. Same goes for writers. Never get caught writing.

But the first rule to remember is that you stand on the shoulders of literary giants who came before you, but still, you are on your own. 

Now shut up and write.

New York-based bestselling American novelist Jack Engelhard writes regularly for Arutz Sheva.

He is the author of the international book-to-movie bestseller “Indecent Proposal” and most recently the two inside journalism thrillers “The Bathsheba Deadline” and “News Anchor Sweetheart, Hollywood Edition.” Engelhard is the recipient of the Ben Hecht Award for Literary Excellence. Website: