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How to Write Fiction (Like a Pulitzer Prize Winner)

How to Write Fiction (Like a Pulitzer Prize Winner)

If you wanna learn how to write fiction, why not turn to the absolute masters of the art form? (Or at least masters of the ability to win a frickin' Pulitzer Prize.)

And though the 7 Pulitzer Prize winners included here won't be able to help you figure out how categorize your Kindle book, or your promote your collection on book...

..they will give you fascinating insight into the process and strategies they use to write the most compelling and powerful fiction possible.

How to Write Fiction (Jeffery Eugenides)How to Write Fiction Like a Pulitzer Prize Winner Tip #1: Start Writing, Then Outline (Jeffrey Eugenides, 2003, "Middlesex")

Think ya gotta have every beat and chapter of your novel planned out before firing up your copy of manuscript software?

Well, if chronic outlining has led to chronic procrastinating...then you might want to try out Jeffrey Eugenides' method of jumping into the deep end of the pool...

...and then outlining along the way.

"I don’t start with an idea and outline it. I don’t see how you can know what’s going to happen in a book or what the book is about beforehand. So I plunge in headlong, and after a while I get worried that I don’t know what I’m doing or where I’m going, so I begin to make a fuzzy outline, thinking about what might happen in the book or how I might structure it.

"And then that outline keeps getting revised. I’ll have it there, like a security blanket, to make me feel better about what I’m doing, but it’s provisional."

How to Write Fiction Like Alice WalkerHow to Write Fiction Like a Pulitzer Prize Winner Tip #2: DON'T Write What You Know (Alice Walker, 1982, "The Color Purple")

If there's one nugget of writing wisdom everybody knows - aside from "Please don't write any more books about teenage vampires" - then it's "write what you know."

But Toni Morrison doesn't subscribe to that old writing chestnut. In fact, she feels a writer achieves their potential when they do just the opposite.

"I know you've heard all your life, 'Write what you know.' Well I am here to tell you, you don't know nothing. So do not write what you know. Think up something else. Write about a young Mexican woman working in a restaurant and can't speak English. Or write about a famous mistress in Paris who's down on her luck."

How to Write Fiction Like Toni MorrisonHow to Write Fiction Like a Pulitzer Prize Winner Tip #3: Forget the Ideal Reader, Write for Your Characters (Toni Morrison, 1988, "Beloved")

Many of the fiction-writing gurus out there will tell ya to "picture" an ideal reader as you churn out those pages. But Toni Morrison believes that this can actually strait-jacket your fiction - and leave you with artificial and inauthentic drafts.

"Don’t write with an audience in mind, write for the characters. This means, when rewriting, go to the characters for advice, let them tell you if the rendition of their lives is authentic or not."

How to Write Fiction Like a Pulitzer Prize Winner Tip #4: Commit to an Hour a Day (John Updike, 1991, "Rabbit at Rest")

Sometimes the most difficult piece of writing advice to follow is the simplest. Which is...get your butt in the chair and write. To John Updike, it's not just because it helps you boost your word count, but because it helps you establish the seriousness of your pursuit as a writer.

“Try to develop actual work habits, and even though you have a busy life, try to reserve an hour, say — or more — a day to write. Some very good things have been written on an hour a day. Take it seriously, just set a quota."

How to Write Fiction Like Jennifer EganHow to Write Fiction Like a Pulitzer Prize Winner Tip #5: Rewrite to Discover, Not Troubleshoot (Jennifer Egan, 2011, "A Visit From the Goon Squad")

Find rewriting a grueling and exhausting process? (Not to mention an easy way to rack up those group therapy bills?)

Then, perhaps, take Jennifer Egan's approach: which is to focus less on finding areas where the writing is mediocre (usually not hard) to focusing on figuring out what a particular section of writing is trying to say.

"Between each big draft I try to raise each individual part up to a level. It’s not so much about spotting problems as it is confronting, ‘What have I got here and what is it trying to be? How can I bridge that gap?’ It’s taking stock of what’s there and figuring out what needs to be different."

How to Write Fiction Like a Pulitzer Prize Winner Tip #6: Write At Your Own Pace (Donna Tartt, 2014, "The Goldfinch")

Donna Tartt, author of "The Goldfinch," is not known for her speedy composition. (Most of her novels take a decade to write.)

But she believes a writer must follower his/her own pace - and that the popularity (and power) of her faction comes from writing outside of a rigid schedule.

"There's an expectation these days that novels—like any other consumer product—should be made on a production line, with one dropping from the conveyor belt every couple of years. But it's for every writer to decide his own pace, and the pace varies with the writer and the work.

"Taking on challenging projects is the way that one grows and extends one's range as a writer, one's technical command, so I consider the time well-spent."

How to Write Fiction Like Cormac McCarthyHow to Write Fiction Like a Pulitzer Prize Winner Tip #7: Go Big or Go Home (Cormac McCarthy, 2007, "The Road")

Perhaps the only bigger question than "how do I write" might just be "what do I write?" And Cormac McCarthy is firmly in the camp that the grander, more ambitious - and utterly frightening - a writing project is...the more worthy it is of your time.

"I'm not interested in writing short stories. Anything that doesn't take years of your life and drive you to suicide hardly seems worth doing."

Michael Rogan

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