6 Bits Of Writing Advice From Wilbur Smith 

6 Bits Of Writing Advice From Wilbur Smith 

In this post we look at six bits of writing advice from Wilbur Smith.

Who Was Wilbur Smith?

Wilbur Addison Smith (9 January 1933 to 13 November 2021) was a South African author. His debut novel, When The Lion Feeds, appeared in 1964. Smith wrote more than 49 books, including Golden Lion and King Of Kings. The best-selling novelist sold more than 120 million books.

Smith wrote until his death in 2021.

6 Bits Of Writing Advice From Wilbur Smith 

  1. Know The Ending 

‘I know how the story will end, but my characters guide me there.’ BooksLive, 2018 Interview

In an interview with BooksLive, Smith said that he always knows how stories will end.

A painter starts with their finished work in mind. Stories are easier when writers can work towards a clear goal. Great endings are planned, and rarely invented as you’re writing.

Smith also said that his best writing process is simple: just sit down and write. 

  1. Don’t Be Literary 

‘I don’t write literature, I write stories.’ The Guardian, 2021 Obituary

 According to Smith, he focused his effort on writing stories, not literature.

‘Literature’ is subjective to an audience, but great fiction gets a paycheck. Smith received much criticism for mass-market writing (but never seemed to care about any of it!).

Don’t tell yourself that this is the Next Great Work. It’s too much pressure.

Just start with a good story. 

  1. Writers Write

‘No, because what I write is life, and I am a writer. And what does a writer do? He writes.’ Alain Elkann, 2015 Interview

Asked by Alain Elkann if he ever gets tired of writing, Smith responded that what he writes is life, and writers write.

Once a writer, always a writer. Most authors never retire, but continue through most of their lives. That’s not because we’re broke, but because there’s always something for a writer to say.

According to the statement upon his death, Smith spent his last hours doing exactly what he loved: reading and writing.

We’re not saying you should ask for a pen and paper on your deathbed, but it’s important for writers to keep doing what they love!

  1. Find A Good Opening

‘I start a novel when I am sure about how to write the opening, after months and months of research where I live in the world I want to write about.’ Strand Mag, Interview

Smith didn’t outline, but found the opening and ending scenes first.

In this interview, Smith revealed that he never takes notes (and prefers to remember where he goes with the plot). He also said, ‘Then I set off, letting my imagination roam around the story archipelago in my mind.’

He called this the best part of his writing.

Have a beginning, have an end, and have fun.

  1. Develop Your Own Style 

‘I don’t like to think too deeply about what my style is. It’s my style and it’s natural to me like the way I eat and the way I sleep.’ Historical Novel Society, Interview

Style is a common writing question, for which Smith had his own simple answer: don’t think too deeply.

Style isn’t just born, but gets made through life and literary experiences. Every writer has their own way, and obsession over it will never help you find your style.

Smith also said, ‘I suppose it’s your state of mind, the way you perceive the world. I just translate from my own experience, my own thoughts.’

  1. Collaboration

‘We begin by reading the original work from my backlist which serves as the Bible for what we want to achieve.‘ Express, Interview

Smith wasn’t a single writer, but wrote with ghostwriters.

‘We work on an outline together. When I feel that’s exciting, they start their work under my supervision. Then when the book is delivered, I take over to make it my own.’

While this isn’t for everyone, it shows that collaboration is valuable. Think Stephen King and Peter Straub (Black House), or Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman (Good Omens).

Good writers, sometimes, write with others.

The Last Word

In this post, we looked at writing advice from Wilbur Smith. We hope that it will be the next step on your way to better, clearer writing.

Source for Image: wilbur smithjimincairns, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

By Alex J. Coyne. Alex is a writer, proofreader, and regular card player. His features about cards, bridge, and card playing have appeared in Great Bridge Links, Gifts for Card Players, Bridge Canada Magazine, and Caribbean Compass. Get in touch at alexcoyneofficial.com.

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TIP: If you want help writing a book, buy The Novel Writing Exercises Workbook.

Posted on: 9th January 2023