Ian McEwan's Advice for Aspiring Writers

well I think it's very hard to teach people novelists and poets but I think it's quite useful for people to set aside time and if setting aside time means attending a creative writing program I think that can be useful also what's useful is to have expectations laid on you that you're going to produce the work many people find it extremely difficult to just drive themselves on what to write several stories or get a novel going and again I think creative writing programs are useful for that that said I think that we can suffer a bit from too many writing programs and I've often thought that here in the states where it's so well-established the one aspect of one of the aspects that alarms me is undergraduate writing problems seems too soon to me seems like a vehicle for mass ignorant people need to do reading and writers need to read so I would say any creative writing program really should be for graduates no no it shouldn't be a course of study for undergraduates the other thing is that I do wonder sometimes whether having so many writers sequestered on campuses across the United States means that writers are cut off from cities or from countryside or from original places when I think of a an older generation that includes Saul Bellow or Roth or famously Updike who so it'll quit his Manhattan New Yorker life to go and live in a small town in New England that kind of engagement I think could come under attack if too many writers are just solving lished professors just English professors with a little bohemian edge we've got loads of like writing writing programs now in England and again it's the it's the spectre of the undergraduate writing program which i think is is deathly it's fine if it's just one aspect of a much bigger course but the reading has to be done if you don't read as a novelist you're liable to be hugely influenced by the writers you haven't read it's a strange and pernicious visible and rather mysterious matter that you can be in the grip of writers that you have plucked from the air without fully understanding where you've got them from only by reading can you isolate these sources and at least you know write pastiche or at least be conscious of what you're doing you

50 thoughts on “Ian McEwan's Advice for Aspiring Writers

  1. "Writers need to Read"-I need to work on this better, "Writers are cut off from Cities, Countryside and Original places"
    I find if I go for a walk, a drive to the country or even just sitting down in the park or in the mall and watching how people communicate, their body language and all the other things happening around me, gives me so much energy as to what I could really write about.

  2. I find his explanation to be "by the book" ish you know! If he were to visit a Tibetan temple that's been lost to the world the past 800 years, i imagine he'd try to correct their vernacular because it doesn't conform to Cambridge's portrayal of an 800 year old Tibetan munk and his dialect. Yeesh, loosen Daddy Warbucks

  3. Just sit at your desk and fail. Do it again. Fail. Soon, you will have learnt the power of persistence, amid you're ego, frail and quivering. Persistence, edits out the failure, and a handful of words, may take shape…Success begins…

  4. I cannot save my other novels. I will try to improve, but I'm not good at delivery. I think my ideas are okay, but my method of craft is lacking. Plus, I have no passion anymore, can't pretend to be other people.

  5. Hm, I would not agree with suggestions about ''when'' to write. That is not a choice. The person has to write when he or she has to write. And they need discussions about the writing process right then and there, whether they are 7 or 27…It's really not a choice.

  6. I am an engineering student about to graduate this summer and this video and many of the comments below made me tear up. This is the first time in my life I find myself with the courage to pursue a dream and any word of encouragement right now touches my soul. Thank you so much you have no idea.

  7. how was this advice for Aspiring writers. he was mostly talking about programs. This has nothing to do with Ian, ITS the TITLE OF THIS THAT WAS DECEIVING???? great respect for his work

  8. If you don't understand what you are reading, then reading is wasted. A writing course will outline what you are reading in the case that you have missed critical aspects. Every new book offers me new insight, as I am searching for it.

  9. I've read Ian McEwan, and the implied, but unstated message here, is that writers have to have lived a life; interacting with folks who are not necessarily literary. It's also obvious, that anyone who imagines they can write a novel without having read extensively, is probably delusional.

  10. I've never read any of his books but he sounds fairly sensible. I believe that if you are writing for a particular purpose, trade magazine, genre magazine, etc. you will need to now how to present your work properly and for it to be relevant otherwise the publisher will send it back and not use you again. Writer's courses can help you with this.
    Having tried two different well-known courses I found both of them orientated towards jobbing writers. Neither was very helpful for fiction and none of the tutors they linked me to were interested in science fiction. Only one could have been said to be a successful writer. I hadn't heard of the others. For one I was told to analyse a section from a book I didn't like. I did this only to be told "we do not consider this type of work suitable for our course" (It was not porn but it was unpleasant). They moved me from one tutor (I had never heard of) to another whose work I had read and respected. Needless to say I found no reason to continue the course.
    My own advice? Stop wasting your time on "how to" books and videos, most of which are from people who have had little or no success as writers. Most of the "how to" books I have read were by people who have only that single publication to their credit. I have had several exchanges with snowflakes on Youtube (young women/girls) who don't like negative comments and haven't actually been published. One of them says her friends and family know her as a novelist because she has completed… one novel which took 7 years to write. I don't consider that being a novelist, that is a dilettante, the kind of person who has a fighting dog as a fashion statement, not because they particular like dogs.
    Here are 2 tips which have served me well, both stolen:
    1. Write what excites you (what you know is probably of no interest to me or anyone else).
    2. Finish your first draft BEFORE you start reworking/editing/otherwise altering it, otherwise you will never finish it. How many people do you know who have started a novel and constantly "improve" the work instead of getting it completed? An unfinished book is an unfinished book.
    There is a third, don;t write to a market, it is probably already saturated. Are you really going to write the next Harry Potter or Twilight series? Doubtful, they've already been done.

  11. how can i be reading if i am supposed to be writing? there's no time for reading and barely enough time for writing!

  12. if you want to write just get on with it! period and stop watching and listening to other people, that being said Ian McEwan's manner is very calming and non patronizing unlike some others on here who are so self assured and just come across like arrogant ass-holes. Just write even if it turns out shit, just frigin write, no one is in charge but you.

  13. I agree that you need to read to be a writer, but I don't think it's too early to start in undergraduate years. I've had work published even before that and have been flourishing since (improving as the years go on as well).

  14. There are stages to being a writer just as with any artist. An aspiring writer should be reading daily and writing as they feel they can until, at least, they understand a creative process which works for them. I should think that starting with short stories, testing out various genres and styles and things you've picked up from other writers, is good; trying to write something large like a novel with limited experience is only asking for trouble. Unless you're Miyamoto Musashi, I'd say you should test the waters as much as you can before just jumping in.

  15. in a broad spectrum and from the aapect of someone seeing this video for the first time, it definitely shouldn't have 'aspiring writer' in its title. I'm no English major or novelist but anyone can write and no one comes from a place of ignorance, were all unique and we all have valid realities to share. please retitle this video 'so you think you can write?' or something else pretentious, cause that's exactly what this shit is.

  16. Very true. Writers need to read and write no matter what. Writing programmes and writing classes lead you nowhere. The problem is, you'll only realise this during and after the study not before you paid or took loan for the tuition fees.

  17. You don't need creative writing programs. Read hours everyday for a decade and you'll learn what you need to about storytelling. Especially with the internet now there's just no reason to take classes. I've read stories by kids in highschool who just read and write a lot and are able to produce decent stories.

  18. Brilliantly simple advice from a brilliant writer. I've benefited from this advice and continue to do so.

  19. He's mistaken. Writing should not be confined to one age group. If you like writing, you should start writing right off, weather you're post-graduate or a 13 year old boy.

  20. I am working on a series of ideas at the minute which I'm hopping will form the basis of a novel. I found at one time a lot of the content I was working on was very emotional and I was questioning whether or not to continue with it… then I seen a utube clip by Ann Rice where she says , "you must go where the pain is". I thought that's what I needed to hear. We have to face the things that challenge us, those past and sometimes hurtful experiences we'd like to forget, I think as writers we can't afford to just let them go.

  21. "IF you write Myrh or Science Fiction. I suppose you really don't need to know much about life in general, but also IF you ever did really know what you're talking about Then you were there!!   Ninety percent is True, only the Characters names really change, and not the Meal!"  

  22. People often praise McEwan, Amis, Rushdie, Hitchens, etc., for erudition; I wonder if that isn't just a product of the sort of education on offer when they were in school. Of course the people on the screen tend to have been to elite schools—particularly in the UK where Oxford and Cambridge loom so large—but I still wonder if the standards haven't changed, and if we simply are more impressed now by someone who, in his or her time, would have been thought simply educated, rather than some kind of genius. What he's talking about is certainly a real problem; there's no doubt about that.

  23. A quicker way to get published is to sleep with someone well up in a publishing house. It sure beats doing a CW degree just to get connected, as does going to the right parties, and that's more fun too. The list of fabulously gifted, universally read writers who DIDN'T go on any course to write encompasses the WHOLE Project Gutenberg list. I taught for years at UEA, albeit not that goddamned course, which is lauded 'cos it raises a lot of dosh and profile. Writers can draw on knowledge and experience, and many do. The techniques and structures of writing are in every 'how to' book. Writers can get precious and arrogant if they're fĂȘted everywhere. Like actors, their gifts are easily overrated. They haven't discovered relativity or quantum theory. They just build piles of words for sale. Who does not?

  24. The rules have changed since McEwan was at university. He got paid to study. Today, kids have to pay extortionate rates for a course they could get for free online. They should do a computer degree, get a decently-paying job and write in the evenings and at weekends. True, we won't get many great writers, but can anyone name one great British writer working now?

  25. So you think only graduated people should write? So.. you should not only read books, which you can always do, but use years on learning things you may not need and are not interested in, not to say that it is even everyone who can afford college. To be a good writer is not something you simply learn by reading and combining, but by thinking individually and independently.

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