Friday, February 8, 2013

Writing Tips from W. G Sebald

Former students of W. G. Sebald's final fiction workshop at the University of East Anglia during the autumn of 2001 have assembled a collection of writing tips from their class notes and posted them here.

A select few that caught my eye:

On Approach

  • Writing is about discovering things hitherto unseen. Otherwise there’s no point to the process.
  • Write about obscure things but don’t write obscurely.
  • It’s hard to write something original about Napoleon, but one of his minor aides is another matter.

On Narration and Structure

  • The present tense lends itself to comedy. The past is foregone and naturally melancholic.
  • There is a species of narrator, the chronicler; he’s dispassionate, he’s seen it all.

On Description


  • You sometimes need to magnify something, describe it amply in a roundabout way. And in the process you discover something.
  • How do you surpass horror once you’ve reached a certain level? How do you stop appearing gratuitous? Horror must be absolved by the quality of the prose.

On Reading and Intertextuality

  • Read books that have nothing to do with literature.
  • Get off the main thoroughfares; you’ll see nothing there. For example, Kant’s Critique is a yawn but his incidental writings are fascinating.
  • None of the things you make up will be as hair-raising as the things people tell you.
  • I can only encourage you to steal as much as you can. No one will ever notice. You should keep a notebook of tidbits, but don’t write down the attributions, and then after a couple of years you can come back to the notebook and treat the stuff as your own without guilt.
  • If you look carefully you can find problems in all writers. And that should give you great hope. And the better you get at identifying these problems, the better you will be at avoiding them.

On Style

  • Every sentence taken by itself should mean something.
  • Writing should not create the impression that the writer is trying to be ‘poetic’.
  • It’s easy to write rhythmical prose. It carries you along. After a while it gets tedious.
  • Long sentences prevent you from having continually to name the subject (‘Gertie did this, Gertie felt that’ etc.).
  • Avoid sentences that serve only to set up later sentences.

On Revision

  • Don’t revise too much or it turns into patchwork.
  • Lots of things resolve themselves just by being in the drawer a while.

1 comment:

Maricar Gomez said...

Great information and ideas..Thanks a lot..


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