Noble Prize winner Toni Morrison is an acclaimed author. Her writing profoundly explores the African-American experience with the aid of vivid storytelling and complex characters. I have read three of her novels: The Bluest Eye, Sula, and Song of Solomon; they helped open my eyes to numerous issues, the most prominent one being internalized racism.
While I myself have never written a fictional work, I know that many students do. Here are some of her best writing tips:
- Write when you know you’re at your best. For her, this happened to be the early morning, pre-dawn hours…because she feels that she is “not very bright or very witty or very inventive after the sun goes down.”
- “There’s a line between revising and fretting” It’s important for a writer to know when they are “fretting,” because if something isn’t working, “it needs to be scrapped”.
- A good editor is “like a priest or a psychiatrist.” One of the marks of a good editor? She doesn’t “love you or your work,” therefore offers criticism, not compliments.
- Don’t write with an audience in mind, write for the characters.Knowing how to read your own work—with the critical distance of a good reader—makes you a “better writer and editor.”
- Control your characters. Despite the ever-present and clichéd demand to “write what you know,” Morrison studiously tries to avoid taking character traits from people she knows. As she puts it: “making a little life for oneself by scavenging other people’s lives is a big question, and it does have moral and ethical implications.”
- Plot is like melody; it doesn’t need to be complicated. Rather than constructing intricate plots with hidden twists, she prefers to think of the plot in musical terms as a “melody,” where the satisfaction lies in recognizing it and then hearing the “echoes and shades and turns and pivots” around it.
- Style, like jazz, involves endless practice and restraint. Speaking of Jazz, Morrison tells she has always thought of herself like a jazz musician, “someone who practices and practices and practices in order to able to invent and to make his art look effortless and graceful.”
- Be yourself, but be aware of tradition. Of the diversity of African-American jazz musicians and singers, Morrison says “I would like to write like that. I would like to write novels that were unmistakably mine, but nevertheless fit first into African American traditions and second of all, this whole thing called literature.”
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