Writing Quips and Tips From Truman Capote

Every week, Quips and Tips for Successful Writers features “Writing Quips and Tips From Successful Published Author X.” Truman Capote is up to bat this week; on deck for next week is Annie Dillard.

Truman Capote’s most famous works are Breakfast at Tiffany’s and In Cold Blood. And, speaking of cold-blooded murder, here’s one of his most startling quips:

“Finishing a book is just like you took a child out in the back yard and shot it,” said Capote.

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If so, then is writing a sequel or series about resurrection, rebirth, and another death? For more info about Truman Capote’s experience writing In Cold Blood, click on the image. And, read on for quips and tips from Truman Capote…

Writing Quips and Tips From Truman Capote

Quip: “No one will ever know what ‘In Cold Blood’ took out of me. It scraped me right down to the marrow of my bones. It nearly killed me. I think, in a way, it did kill me.”

  • Writing Tip: The best writing – the writing that wins awards and stays popular for decades – affects authors at a deep, personal level. Generally speaking, I don’t think we writers who want to be successful don’t understand the sacrifices a writing career takes.

Quip: “Never demean yourself by talking back to a critic, never. Write those letters to the editor in your head, but don’t put them on paper.”

  • Writing Tip: This is a good way to handle criticism on your blog posts or magazine articles…acknowledge the critic if you like (I would), but don’t defend your writing or your content. This is difficult to do, but it might be better for your career and psyche. Similarly, Grammy-award winning singer k.d. lang never reads her reviews.

Quip: “Writing has laws of perspective, of light and shade just as painting does, or music. If you are born knowing them, fine. If not, learn them. Then rearrange the rules to suit yourself.”

  • Writing Tip: Successful writers aren’t born with buckets of talent (though a natural affinity for language definitely helps!). If you want to write well, then learn the rules of writing – and Strunk and White is a great place to start. Then, follow your gut when it comes to breaking those rules.

Quip: “What I am trying to achieve is a voice sitting by a fireplace telling you a story on a winter’s evening.”

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  • Writing Tip: Truman Capote has his writer’s voice nailed because he imagines telling a story while in a specific time and place. When I write for See Jane Soar, I focus on a very specific woman – and she’s usually out rock climbing or slaying dragons (not sitting by the fire…not that there’s anything wrong with that!). When I write for Health magazine, I picture a health-savvy woman in her 30s or 40s, who likes a dash of spice in her reading.

Quip: “I think of myself as a stylist, and stylists can become notoriously obsessed with the placing of a comma, the weight of a semicolon.”

  • Writing Tip: Jeez, see how hard good writing is? I don’t think I’d ever have the patience to become obsessed with comma placement…but truly successful writers might get caught up in those details. I suspect Capote also wrestled with writer’s perfectionism – and he still produced excellent work (some perfectionists are paralyzed).

One final quip from Truman Capote: “I never read unpleasant things about myself.”

  • Writing Tip: Fellow scribes, focus on what you do well. Ignore the bad reviews, unsupportive family members, lukewarm blog traffic. Savor your own best traits as a writer, blogger, novelist, or human being in general! The less you dwell on weaknesses and mistakes, the further ahead you’ll get in life…and the more successful a writer you’ll be.
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I welcome your thoughts on these writing quips and tips from Truman Capote below. And, if you’d like me to round up quips from a particular published author, please let me know…

Writer's Market 2020: The Most Trusted Guide to Getting Published
Writer's Market 2020: The Most Trusted Guide to Getting Published - Want to get your books and articles published? Want to get paid to write? Writer's Market 2020 will guide you through the process with thousands of publishing opportunities for writers, including listings for book publishers, consumer and trade magazines, contests and awards and literary agents—as well as new playwriting and screenwriting sections.


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