Writing advice from Mr. Lewis

I’m a huge fan of Letters of Note, a blog that attempts to “gather and sort fascinating letters, postcards, telegrams, faxes, and memos.” I often pore over it when I’m bored or in need of inspiration, and have even started following Shaun Usher, the man behind the blog, on Twitter.

The stuff you will find on there is priceless, like this irreverent letter from Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong to a young fan’s disturbed mother or this heart-melting love note from Johnny Cash to wife, June.

But, so far, I think my favourite has got to be a response letter from C.S Lewis to one of his young Narnia fans.

The site states: “It was sent by Lewis to a young American fan named Joan Lancaster in June of 1956 — just a few months before the seventh and final book of the series, The Last Battle, was published — and is actually an invaluable, generous response filled with practical writing advice, all of which still rings true.”

For the full letter, check out Letters of Note, but here’s a little taster: the precious writing advice the kind old gentleman jotted down for little Joan.

What really matters is:–

1. Always try to use the language so as to make quite clear what you mean and make sure your sentence couldn’t mean anything else.

2. Always prefer the plain direct word to the long, vague one. Don’t implement promises, but keep them.

3. Never use abstract nouns when concrete ones will do. If you mean “More people died” don’t say “Mortality rose.”

4. In writing. Don’t use adjectives which merely tell us how you want us to feel about the thing you are describing. I mean, instead of telling us a thing was “terrible,” describe it so that we’ll be terrified. Don’t say it was “delightful”; make us say “delightful” when we’ve read the description. You see, all those words (horrifying, wonderful, hideous, exquisite) are only like saying to your readers, “Please will you do my job for me.”

5. Don’t use words too big for the subject. Don’t say “infinitely” when you mean “very”; otherwise you’ll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite.

Thanks for the photos. You and Aslan both look v. well. I hope you’ll like your new home.

With love


C.S. Lewis


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