In this post, we will walk you through writing advice from Eudora Welty, the great American writer.
Who Was Eudora Welty?
Eudora Alice Welty (13 April 1909 to 23 July 2001) was born in Jackson, Mississippi. She is known for her fiction, which often used the American South and its culture.
Her novel The Optimist’s Daughter won the Pulitzer Prize in 1973.
She wrote much more, including short stories like Why I Live At The Post Office.
Welty was also a photographer. She published One Time, One Place as a photo book in 1971.
Here are 8 writing lessons from Eudora Welty.
8 Bits Of Writing Advice From Eudora Welty
‘No blur of inexactness, no cloud of vagueness, is allowable in good writing; from the first seeing to the last putting down, there must be steady lucidity and uncompromise of purpose.’ ― From On Writing
The Writers Write motto is, ‘Write to communicate.’
Welty wrote what she saw. She expressed her thoughts in plain language. In this quote, she says this is what every writer should do.
Always focus on clarity first. A message only gets across when readers can understand it.
Stephen King sells millions for this reason.
Art Speaks Truth
‘Art, though, is never the voice of a country; it is an even more precious thing, the voice of the individual, doing its best to speak, not comfort of any sort, but truth.’ – From On Writing
Fiction doesn’t lie. Art says things.
Welty calls art the voice of an individual. She says that art must speak truth.
- What does your work say?
- What is its point?
If you want to be a good author, you have to answer these first.
Even an email is art. Write it well.
Show, Don’t Tell
‘The novelist works neither to correct nor to condone, not at all to comfort, but to make what’s told alive.’ ― From On Writing
Every writing book (or class) will teach the same core lesson: show, don’t tell.
Welty calls this to make what’s told ‘alive’. Characters, headlines, they all need life – or they can’t get through to your reader.
She didn’t write her stories for ‘comfort’, but for truth (and life).
In Welty’s way, this is her version of: show, don’t tell.
Good writing is alive. In your emails, the reader should hear your voice. In your descriptions, they should see what you can.
Listen (& Learn)
‘Long before I wrote stories, I listened for stories. Listening for them is something more acute than listening to them. I suppose it’s an early form of participation in what goes on. Listening children know stories are there. When their elders sit and begin, children are just waiting and hoping for one to come out, like a mouse from its hole.’ ― From One Writer’s Beginnings
The best authors pay attention.
Welty was first a storyteller, but also a writer. Storytellers, good ones, captivate an audience (writers get to do this in print).
Learn from good storytellers.
Learn from fiction, fables, pamphlets, and headlines.
A writer can learn from anything that is said or seen.
‘Human life is fiction’s only theme.’ – From On Writing
Think of three stories.
- Kafka’s Metamorpohsis
- Stan Lee’s Spider-Man
- Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings
Think of your own!
Can you say that these stories, somehow, are about life?
If the answer is no, do they relate to life?
Almost every show, series, or tale you can think of would be true according to Welty’s quote.
All stories we tell go back to human life.
Even stories of animals, tell us something (or relate to our own lives).
If not for this, we wouldn’t read them.
‘For the source of the short story is usually lyrical. And all writers speak from, and speak to, emotions eternally the same in all of us: love, pity, terror do not show favourites or leave any of us out.’ ― From On Writing
Welty called the source of stories ‘lyrical’.
She meant that emotion is universal. This is why stories can be translated, and still keep their core emotion (or message).
When you write, always think of how you feel (and what can be described). Find ways to describe it. Have fun.
Emotions open a whole new world of possible writing. Excellent writers know how to access it.
How do you get better?
Learn About Archetypes
‘The challenge to writers today, I think, is not to disown any part of our heritage. Whatever our theme in writing, it is old and tried. Whatever our place, it has been visited by the stranger, it will never be new again. It is only the vision that can be new; but that is enough.’ ― From On Writing
The theory of the ‘archetype’ says that typical stories like the hermit (or scattered professor) exist everywhere.
Welty refers to this by saying that themes, all of them, have been written about in the past. A writer’s job is to find the new idea, the new angle, behind old themes.
There’s a lyric that says, ‘Meet the new boss/Same as the old boss.’
As a writer, always be new (even with familiar themes).
‘Great fiction shows us not how to conduct our behaviour but how to feel. Eventually, it may show us how to face our feelings and face our actions and to have new inklings about what they mean.’ – From On Writing
Great stories, she means, are not just about moral lessons. Stories are about feeling.
Every great story has some feel behind it. Fear, loss, hope, gain. We remember tales because we recall what they made us feel.
The best writer makes readers feel (and think), not just learn.
The Last Word
I hope these bits of writing advice from Eudora Welty help you with your writing.
Source for image: Anonymous Unknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Eudora-Welty-1962.jpeg
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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