Octavia E. Butler’s Reasons for Becoming an Author and 10 Quotes About Writing

You can find the source of today’s writing advice post right here. One thing to note before going on is that I’m not posting these to the blog here in the same order as I did to reddit, so you may see references to posts I haven’t made yet. Those links will just take you to an /r/writing self post and a glimpse of the future of this blog. No worries.

Anyway, here it is, Octavia Butler’s advice about writing:

Today I’d like to move to another of my favorite writers, Octavia E. Butler. As you might be able to tell by some of the other authors I’ve been choosing (Atwood , Le Guin , etc.), I’m a little biased toward speculative fiction, and in this video (which I found on Feministing here), Butler accurately explains a major reason why by explaining why she enjoys writing science fiction. To quote the linked video:

It’s a wonderful way to think about possibilities. It’s a wonderful way to explore exotic politics. It’s a wonderful–it’s a freedom. It’s a way of doing anything you want. There are all sorts of walls around other genres. Romances, mysteries, westerns. There are no real walls around science fiction. We can build them, but they’re not there naturally.

And if that wasn’t a good enough reason for you, you can check out this video snippet of a panel discussion filmed at UCLA in 2002 in which she discusses, among other things, how a bad movie encouraged her to get into science fiction.

Bringing us to her ten “tips” for writing, which in this case comes from the Aerogramme Writer’s Studio website where they’ve collected some inspiring Butler Quotes for us. Here are, I think, the more useful ones for writers:

  1. On Habit : “First forget inspiration. Habit is more dependable. Habit will sustain you whether you’re inspired or not. Habit will help you finish and polish your stories. Inspiration won’t. Habit is persistence in practice.”
  2. On Science Fiction: “I was attracted to science fiction because it was so wide open. I was able to do anything and there were no walls to hem you in and there was no human condition that you were stopped from examining.”
  3. On College: “I’ve talked to high school kids who are thinking about trying to become a writer and asking ‘What should I major in?’, and I tell them, ‘History. Anthropology. Something where you get to know the human species a little better, as opposed to something where you learn to arrange words.’ I don’t know whether that’s good advice or not, but it feels right to me.”
  4. On Persistence: “You don’t start out writing good stuff. You start out writing crap and thinking it’s good stuff, and then gradually you get better at it. That’s why I say one of the most valuable traits is persistence.”
  5. On Writers’ Workshops: “A workshop is a way of renting an audience, and making sure you’re communicating what you think you’re communicating. It’s so easy as a young writer to think you’re been very clear when in fact you haven’t.”
  6. On Being a Writer: “Writing is one of the few professions in which you can psychoanalyse yourself, get rid of hostilities and frustrations in public, and get paid for it.”
  7. On Writing Everyday: “And I have this little litany of things they can do. And the first one, of course, is to write – every day, no excuses. It’s so easy to make excuses. Even professional writers have days when they’d rather clean the toilet than do the writing.”
  8. On Personal Experience: “I think writers use absolutely everything that happens to us, and surely if I had had a different sort of childhood and still come out a writer, I’d be a different kind of writer. It’s on a par with, but different from, the fact that I had four brothers who were born and died before I was born. Some of them didn’t come to term, some of them did come to term and then died. But my mother couldn’t carry a child to term, for the most part something went wrong. If they had lived, I would be a very different person. So, anything that happens in your life that is important, if it didn’t happen you would be someone different.”
  9. On Research: “I talked to members of my family, and did some personal research that didn’t really have anything to do with the time and place I was writing about, but that gave me a feeling of the experience of being black in a time and place where it was very difficult to be black.”
  10. On Theory: “I avoid all critical theory because I worry about it feeding into my work. I mean, I don’t worry about nonfiction in general feeding in—in fact, I hope it will—but I worry about criticism influencing me because it can create a vicious circle or something worse. It’s just an impression of mine, but in some cases critics and authors seem to be massaging each other. It’s not very good for storytelling.”

There are a couple more quotes in there if you’re into Butler as much as I am, but I’m pretty sure these ones contain the only writing tips.

And in case you don’t try to avoid it, like Butler does, and want more theory, here’s a PDF by a couple of English professors in which they analyze and critically study the style and techniques of select Butler works. Enjoy until next time.

[Click here for more writing advice for beginners.]

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