Writing advice from Roald Dahl



As a child, I loved the books of Roald Dahl. It’s an infatuation that’s carried into adulthood. Although primarily known for such classics as James and the Giant Peach, Fantastic Mr. Fox, and Matilda, his short stories for adults are grim, creepy delights. If you haven’t read Switch Bitch, Over to You, Someone Like You, or any of his other short story collections, stop what you’re doing right now and order them. You won’t regret it!

In The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar and Six More Features, Dahl lists what he considers to be the seven most important traits of a fiction writer. Although I write nonfiction, I still find these relevant:

You should have a lively imagination.

You should be able to write well. By that, I mean you should be able to make a scene come alive in a reader’s mind. Not everybody has this ability. It is a gift and you either have it or you don’t.

You must have stamina. In other words, you must be able to stick to what you’re doing and never give up, for hour after hour, day after day, week after week, and month after month.

You must be a perfectionist. That means you must never be satisfied with what you have written until you have rewritten it again and again, making it as good as you possibly can.

You must have strong self-discipline. You are working alone. No one is employing you. No one is around to give you the sack if you don’t turn up for work, or to tick you off if you start slacking.

It helps a lot if you have a keen sense of humour. This is not essential when writing for grown-ups, but for children, it’s vital.

You must have a degree of humility. The writer who thinks that is work is marvelous his heading for trouble.

You can find this list—and recorded interviews with Dahl—on the Roald Dahl website.

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