writing, Writing advice

Writing Tips From Umberto Ecco

Last month we lost yet another accomplished writer in Italian Umberto Ecco, most well-known for the medieval mystery, The Name of the Rose. In 1977, Mr. Ecco released a writing manual, designed primarily to help his University students write academic essays, but with a section devoted to advice on the process of writing itself.

I thought them interesting so decided to share them.

You are not Marcel Proust. Do not write long sentences. If they come into your head, write them, but then break them down. Do not be afraid to repeat the subject twice, and stay away from too many pronouns and subordinate clauses.”

You are not e.e.cummings…he used commas and periods with great thriftiness, he broke his lines into small pieces, and in short he did all the things that an avant-garde poet can and should do. You are not an avant-garde poet.”

You are not J.D. Salinger. “Do not play the solitary genius.”

As the above three quotes point out, there is a difference between admiring and even borrowing techniques from an author one admires, and trying to “become” them. For one thing, no one is ever going to write like Proust as well as Proust does. No one can write poems the way e.e. cummings did as well as he. The object is to be the best writers/poets WE can be.

Are you a poet? Then do not pursue a university degree.”

I have seen this position from many accomplished authors, including William Styron, John Gardner, and, to an extent, Stephen King. As one writer explained it to me, the writing programs in most universities are born out of the Literature Departments. In other words, they are much more geared toward analyzing what had already been done, then explaining how to create something new. As Hemingway put it, if you want to be a writer, “go somewhere and write.”

We either use rhetorical figures effectively, or we do not use them at all. If we use them it is because we presume our reader is capable of catching them, and because we believe that we will appear more incisive and convincing. In this case, we should not be ashamed of them, and we should not explain them. If we think that our reader is an idiot, we should not use rhetorical figures, but if we use them and feel the need to explain them, we are essentially calling the reader and idiot. In turn, he will take revenge by calling the author an idiot.”

In his characteristic brusqueness, he tells us to have faith in ourselves and our readers. Don’t second guess. Make your statement; make it as clear as you can, then trust it to do the work.

Just some thoughts.

Until next time.


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