Writers Write shares writing tips and resources. In this post, we share seven bits of writing advice from Raymond Carver.
Raymond Carver (born 25 May 1938, died 2 August 1988) was an American writer who wrote poems and short stories classified as dirty realism.
The genre uses fiction to portray ‘more mundane aspects of daily life’, as defined by Collins English Dictionary. Other dark or dirty realism writers include Charles Bukowski, William S. Burroughs, and Franz Kafka.
Carver was a master of the short story. He reportedly fell in love with the genre while mixing writing and full-time work. Citing his schedule, he simply continued writing them after publication of his first.
Here are seven bits of writing advice from Raymond Carver.
7 Bits Of Writing Advice From Raymond Carver
Here’s what writers can take from one of the greatest American short story writers of all time.
1. Some Prefer Shorts
Raymond Carver preferred writing short stories to accommodate his schedule.
To continue selling his stories while working, Carver stuck to shorter-form writing for most of his career. The trend was picked up by his editors, and readers loved it.
Short stories are popular for their brevity, and might range a few hundred to a few thousand words in length. Without wasting space, excellent short stories present full characters and a complete story arc.
For writers and readers alike, this is why short stories remain eternally popular.
‘My circumstances of unrelieved responsibility and permanent distraction necessitated the short story form.’ – Small Tales: The Rise & Fall Of The Short Story
Top Tip: Learn how to write short stories with The Short Story Checklist Workbook.
2. Focus Is A Learned Skill
Raymond Carver was candid about his own skills (and limitations) as a writer.
If you find it difficult to deal with responsibilities, phone calls, or social media when it’s writing time, you are not alone. Carver readily admitted that distractions are hard, but learned how to switch off external factors.
Focus is important for any writer. It’s also a learned, developed skill.
‘In the beginning, when I was trying to write, I couldn’t turn off the outside world to the extent that I can now.’ – Conversations With Raymond Carver
3. Use Ordinary Words (For Extraordinary Things)
Dirty realism employs everyday things, but described with spectacular language. The ordinary can become magical, if told by a skilled writer.
Do you want to be as skilled as the literary greats? Study language, and practice varying ways to describe things often.
It’s useful for fiction, business writing, and everyday conversation.
‘It’s possible, in a poem or short story, to write about commonplace things and objects using commonplace but precise language, and to endow those things—a chair, a window curtain, a fork, a stone, a woman’s earring—with immense, even startling power.’ – ‘Principles Of A Story’
4. Write To Communicate
Communication is the goal for most writing and advertising.
‘Write to communicate’ is the Writers Write slogan. It’s also advice echoed by Carver when he speaks of writers and expression.
What does this piece of writing say? If you aren’t sure, it needs editing. No writing is ready until it communicates.
‘Anyone can express himself or herself, but what writers and poets want to do in their work, more than simply express themselves, is communicate.’ – Call If You Need Me: The Uncollected Fiction and Other Prose
5. Writers Absorb Experiences
Carver wasn’t only a writer during his lifetime. He was also employed as an assistant at a library and janitor.
Writers are encouraged to absorb from their every experience. Use the mundane, the unusual, the weird, or the random to enrich your writing. To the writer, anything is useful.
As the dirty realism genre often does, Carver relied on many of his own experiences to craft his stories. He told other writers to do the same.
‘Write about what you know, and what do you know better than your own secrets?’ – Conversations with Raymond Carver
6. Choose Your Words
Writing is a craft without many physical tools. It doesn’t take bevels or screws to compose great stories, but the best words.
Shorter stories means writing more, but with less of a word count. Powerful, plain language writing is required. A full story arc has to fit into the amount of words the writer has.
Edit until the words feel right. Study grammar, dictionaries, and others’ writing to learn more about words and how to use them.
It’s how every writer ever has learned.
‘That’s all we have, finally, the words, and they had better be the right ones.’ – Call If You Need Me: The Uncollected Fiction and Other Prose
7. Fiction Mixes Experience & Imagination
Excellent fiction is a combination of experience and imagination.
A fiction writer must learn everything they can before crafting their scene. It is the only way which scenes can be fuller, devoid of inaccuracies, and evocative to their reader.
‘A little autobiography and a lot of imagination are best.’ – Carver Country: The World of Raymond Carver
The Last Word
Raymond Carver published his first short story called The Furious Seasons in 1960. With others like Bukowski and Burroughs, Carver is credited with the re-introduction of the short story as popular form.
We hope these seven bits of writing advice from Raymond Carver help you become a better writer – whether you’re writing short stories, novels, or memoirs.
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.