Writing advice from John Grisham

John Grisham

Reading time: About 1 minute

This is my weekly installment of “writing about writing,” in which I scan the world to find websites, books and articles to help other writers. Today I discuss a New York Times article by bestselling author John Grisham… 

I’ve never been a huge fan of John Grisham. I read his first novel, A Time to Kill, way back in 1989, shortly after it was published. I was on a beach and needed some easy, thrillerish reading. The man knows how to spin a plot. But I find his writing wooden and uninspiring. Funnily enough, I feel the same way about Stephen King.

But here’s the surprise: Both of these men offer excellent advice for other writers. I’m a big fan of King’s book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, and I appreciated a recent New York Times column by Grisham headlined “Do’s and Don’ts for Writing Popular Fiction.” In this short article, Grisham offers eight pieces of advice and I agree with most of them, excluding, possibly #4 in which he exhorts authors to “write in the same place and time” each day. I think that writing at the same time makes sense but feel that the occasional change of scene can often be astonishingly helpful to writers.

That said, I especially endorse Grisham’s suggestions #6 and #7, which I reproduce in their entirety here:

6. DON’T — KEEP A THESAURUS WITHIN REACHING DISTANCE

I know, I know, there’s one at your fingertips.

There are three types of words: (1) words we know; (2) words we should know; (3) words nobody knows. Forget those in the third category
and use restraint with those in the second.

A common mistake by fledgling authors is using jaw-breaking vocabulary. It’s frustrating and phony.

7. DO — READ EACH SENTENCE AT LEAST THREE TIMES IN SEARCH OF WORDS TO CUT

Most writers use too many words, and why not? We have unlimited space and few constraints.

Now, I simply wish Grisham wrote books that I actually enjoyed reading.

Posted June 12th, 2017 in Writing about writing