Is This the Best Advice to Fiction Writers, Ever Given?

There’s plenty of good advice there for fiction writers. Some of it, by the way, is contained in the work of the late Gary Provost (, who created the Video Novel Workshop. The workshop is now available as a free download, but I bought that series of DVDs from Gary for about $60 when he was still alive. I used it to write 15 pages of my first published novel, Denial, and sold that book and its sequel to Random House, over lunch with the legendary publisher and editor Sonny Mehta (

The Best $60 I Ever Spent

I know that sounds easy—like, add water and stir—but it only happened after I had written 3 complete manuscripts that had gathered about 100 rejection letters. So, in a very real way, Gary’s advice was the key to my beginning my fiction writing career, in earnest. The $60 I handed him was the best money I ever spent.

Still, Gary’s isn’t my choice for the best advice to fiction writers, ever given. I believe that advice came from J.D. Salinger, in his book Raise High the Roofbeams, Carpenter & Seymour: An Introduction.

The Iconic Advice
Salinger’s pearl of wisdom is delivered as part of a letter written by Seymour Glass to his younger brother Buddy Glass. Seymour is watching his brother sleep and wants to pen something that can propel his brother’s writing forward.

The advice he gives him is this:

If only you’d remember before ever you sit down to write that you’ve been a reader long before you were ever a writer. You simply fix that fact in your mind, then sit very still and ask yourself, as a reader, what piece of writing in all the world Buddy Glass would most want to read if he had his heart’s choice. The next step is terrible, but so simple I can hardly believe it as I write it. You just sit down shamelessly and write the thing yourself. I won’t even underline that. It’s too important to be underlined.

Can You Really Write What You Dream of Reading?

Of course, you can. If you can imagine it, you can create it. And what better way to proceed than to use Salinger’s creative device to step out of the role of writer into that of reader, to really step out of the present moment, and imagine reading the work that would move you more than any other.
Why not take 30 minutes today (and tomorrow, if necessary) to really think deeply about what story would speak to your soul and might have the power to change you, profoundly? Because that’s the story to write. That very one.

For Fiction Writers Only?
Is Salinger’s advice applicable only to fiction writers? No. I think architects, public speakers, painters, sculptors, teachers and a host of other professionals can use it, too.

Just imagine what building, what speech, what painting, what sculpture, what assignment would you most like to see or hear or be asked to complete, of all possible ones. Then, just create that very thing yourself.

I have to agree with Salinger: That step is terrible, but so simple I can hardly believe it.

Keith Ablow, MD
Founder, Keith Ablow Creative
[email protected]

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