10 tips for writers from Douglas Adams
1.- Don’t Panic
After Earth is destroyed and Ford saves poor Arthur (along with his towel) by hitchhiking into a Vogon ship, Ford reveals who he is: A travel writer for none other than “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”. He then shows Arthur the cover of the book:
To which Arthur responds: “Don’t Panic. It’s the first helpful or intelligible thing anybody’s said to me all day.”
“All right,” said Deep Thought. “The Answer to the Great Question…””Yes..!” “Of Life, the Universe and Everything…” said Deep Thought. “Yes…!” “Is…” said Deep Thought, and paused. “Yes…!” “Is…” “Yes…!!!…?” “Forty-two,” said Deep Thought, with infinite majesty and calm.”
(In writing, not all questions need to be answered and not all answers need to have questions. It is all right to leave your readers thinking and questioning and seeking answers for themselves. Douglas never gives us “The Question” because it doesn’t matter. Good writing is not about finding an answer or a question. It’s about finding ourselves when we are faced with an answer to a question we’re not even sure exists. So, what do you do? You keep writing and enjoy the search.)
3.- Get a good coffee maker and a sturdy desk
“The fact is, I don’t know where my ideas come from. Nor does any writer. The only real answer is to drink way too much coffee and buy yourself a desk that doesn’t collapse when you beat your head against it.” Douglas Adams
4.-It has nothing to do with the destination
“…my methods of navigation have their advantage. I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.” (The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul)
‘They were not the same eyes with which he had last looked out at this particular scene, and the brain which interpreted the images the eyes resolved was not the same brain. There had been no surgery involved, just the continual wrenching of experience.” (So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish)
5.-There is a knack to achieving greatness: You have to forget that you can fail
“‘The Guide says there is an art to flying’, said Ford, ‘or rather a knack. The knack lies in learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss.’” (The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy)
(When you write, focus on your story, on your characters, and your plot. Forget about the literary journals, the editors, the agents, even the readers. Just write. Forget about rejection and let your creativity soar.)
“Let’s think the unthinkable, let’s do the undoable. Let us prepare to grapple with the ineffable itself, and see if we may not eff it after all.” (Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency)
6.-Let that which irritates you inspire you
‘So where do the ideas actually come from? Mostly from getting annoyed about things. Not big issues so much … as the little irritations that drive you wild out of all proportion.’ (The Frood: The Authorised and Very Official History of Douglas Adams & The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy)
7.-Don’t be a slave to chronological time
“Anything that happens, happens. Anything that, in happening, causes something else to happen, causes something else to happen. Anything that, in happening, causes itself to happen again, happens again. It doesn’t necessarily do it in chronological order, though.” (Mostly Harmless).
“One of the things Ford Perfect had always found the hardest to understand about humans was their habit of continually stating and repeating the very obvious: as in It is a nice day or You’re very tall or Oh dear you seem to have fallen down a thirty foot well, are you all right? At first, Ford had formed a theory to account for this strange behaviour. If human beings don’t keep exercising their lips, he thought, their mouths probably seize up. After a few months’ consideration and observation he abandoned this theory in favor of a new one. If they don’t keep on exercising their lips, he thought, their brains start working. After a while he abandoned this one as well as being obstructively cynical.” (The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy).
“He was constantly reminded of how startlingly different a place the world was when viewed from a point only three feet to the left.” (The Salmon of Doubt)
9.-Enjoy the whoosh!
“I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.” (Douglas Adams)
10.-Be nice to yourself
In a general note to himself, Adams wrote:
“Writing isn’t so bad really when you get through the worry. Forget about the worry, just press on. Don’t be embarrassed about the bad bits. Don’t strain at them. Give yourself time, you can come back and do it again in the light of what you discover about the story later on. It’s better to have pages and pages of material to work with and maybe find an unexpected shape in that you can then craft and put to good use, rather than one manically reworked paragraph or sentence. But writing can be good. You attack it, don’t let it attack you. You can get pleasure out of it. You can certainly do very well for yourself with it!”
-Douglas Adams (born 11 March 1952, died 11 May 2001) was an English writer, comic radio dramatist, and musician. He is best known as the author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and the Dirk Gently series.
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