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Kurt Vonnegut was one of the few writers to gain wide acceptance and acclaim within literary circles, even for his stuff that fit squarely in the genre of science fiction. The pantheon of literary fiction is a notoriously insular world, one that almost exclusively overlooks genre work, simply because it falls into a genre. (This has started to change somewhat in recent years, with genre books winning prestigious literary awards and gaining more recognition.)
Vonnegut was also one hell of a writing instructor. He taught at a variety of institutions, including the Writer’s Workshop at the University of Iowa, arguably the top writing program in the country. For a quick lesson from Vonnegut, check out this article he wrote back in 1980, “How to Write With Style.” Click HERE for a bigger version that you can actually read.
Vonnegut’s teaching style is similar to his writing, combining humor, insight, instruction, and personal narrative. All of these bite-sized nuggets are useful, and are good ideas to keep in mind as you scribble furiously on a yellow legal pad, or pound the keyboard in front of you. The don’t-be-afraid-to-cut-what-you-love part may prove to be the best, most practical bit of advice you’ll come across. And you’ll come across it often. It is applicable to all forms of writing, from creative endeavors to technical articles. No matter how much you love what you just wrote, if it doesn’t work, it has to go.
Whether you’re a writer or not, whether you’re looking for some helpful tips or not, this essay is worth a read. It’s a quick and entertaining slice from one of the all-time greats.