Writing Advice from C.S. Lewis ~ BitterSweetLife

Friday, May 11, 2007

Writing Advice from C.S. Lewis

Late last year, I used a method C.S. Lewis disclosed in The Screwtape Letters to get him a message at his current residence, asking him for some writing tips. As everyone knows, in his life on earth, Lewis took seriously all the letters he received, viewing requests for advice as a significant part of his ministry. Turns out he still maintains this perspective, although with considerably less strain on his mind and body, since he now has unlimited time to deal with fan mail.

I posted part of Lewis' reply to my letter as C.S. Lewis' Top Five Tips for Writing Well. And they were the "top five," because I posted those five tips first. Now, however, it's time to further explore Lewis' advice to aspiring writers (which applies as well to aspiring preachers, songwriters, poets--in fact, to anyone who uses language with intent).

So, why write like C.S. Lewis? Well, Lewis had a knack for expressing profound truths in a gripping but clear way that made people laugh, cry, think and remember. He took nuanced truths and made them understandable without stripping them of their beauty. Let's see what he had to say to people who wanted to follow in his footsteps...

  1. Turn off the Radio.

  2. Read all the good books you can, and avoid nearly all magazines.

  3. 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 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. 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. 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 use a typewriter. The noise will destroy your sense of rhythm, which still needs years of training.

  8. Be sure you know the meaning (or meanings) of every word you use."
Interestingly, these suggestions emphasize the environment surrounding the writer, while the earlier advice from Lewis focused more on the writing task itself. I find #2 thought-provoking...does this really mean I should give up WORLD and Wired and Touchstone, not to mention KUsports.com? And how about #4, the "abuse" of which represents a significant industry today?


This just in: It turns out that when Lewis answered my letter, he was plagiarizing himself! The supposedly "personal" note he sent me also appears in his Collected Letters, Volume III, pp. 1108-1109.

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Ched said...


It turns out that when Lewis answered my letter, he was plagiarizing himself!

That scoundrel. Or, maybe he was simply hyper-linking to a previous post. I know that no-one around here does that...

gymbrall said...

1. Done.

2. Not my precious Wired!!!! It's like a book with advertisements!!

3. Just remember: Shd. sounds gd.

4. This did not stop Marcel Proust*.

5. Huh?

6. Note to self: buy more furniture with drawers...

7. As with #1, done, by the simple expedient of being born into a tv-centric, typewriterless world. [buffs fingernails, exhales coolly]

8. Concordantly, trammel your treatises with flocculent appendages.

* Unfortunately

Ariel said...

On #7, I'm wondering if Lewis would condemn keyboard on the same rationale. I'm sitting in a quiet, cavernous library as I write this, and my keyboard is causing a stir of echoes with its clattering cacophany. :)

Actually, I often write down first drafts in the true sense of the word, then transcribe them later. "Journaling" may have something on typing, and probably not just because it's quieter.

Ariel said...

That scoundrel. Or, maybe he was simply hyper-linking to a previous post.

Apparently he doesn't believe in restating something he's already said. I still think it's unconscionable.


Culture. Photos. Life's nagging questions. - BitterSweetLife