C.S. Lewis on What Makes for Good Writing
In C. S. Lewis and the Art of Writing by Corey Latta, Lewis writes a letter to a girl inquiring about what makes for good writing. Lewis gives eight tips that still hold the test of the time for the modern writer:
1. Turn off the radio.
Okay, maybe we listen to the radio less than previous generations. But how about social, TV, podcasts, Netflix, and You Tube? I’d say Lewis is spot on. Distraction is the enemy of good writing.
2. Read all the good books you can, and avoid nearly all magazines.
What’s a magazine?
3. Always write (and read) with the ear, not the eye. You should hear every sentence you write as if it was being real aloud or spoken. If it does not sound nice, try again.
When polishing and editing your work read it aloud. If you can, print it off, read aloud, and mark with a red pen. I know authors who listen to their books read to them via software on their computer. You’ll catch all kinds of funky stuff.
4. Write about what really interests you, whether it is real things or imaginary things, and nothing else. (Notice this means that if you are interested only in writing you will never be a writer, because you will have nothing to write about.)
Can I get an Amen?
The passionate writer is a prolific writer. Lewis wrote fantasy and Sci-Fi novels for adults and children. He also wrote Christian theology and popular Christian books for a broad audience.
Lewis wrote what he wanted to write despite almost getting crucified by the Oxford literary elite. We do our best writing with great passion and heart because of a love for the subject at hand.
Write books about dragons eating a village, or how to sew a sweater. Do what interests you and you’ll find an audience. There are more people who like your interests than you’d think.
5. Take pains to be clear. Remember that though you start by knowing what you mean, the reader doesn’t, and a single ill-chosen word may lead them to a total misunderstanding. In a story it is terribly easy just to forget that you have not told the reader something that he needs to know- the whole picture is so clear in your own mind that you forget that it isn’t the same in his.
Too many newbie writers try to be cute and clever with their language. Clarity wins the game. Tell the reader what you want them to know, see, or experience. We can attribute the timeliness of Lewis’ work to his clarity of speech.
Do your readers know what you’re trying to say?