10 Writing Tips from Oscar Wilde
Once a week, we will post ten tips on writing from a featured author. Our inaugural author is Oscar Wilde! Come back next week for our next author tips.
Years: 1854 - 1900
Notable Works: The Picture of Dorian Gray, The Importance of Being Earnest, The Ballad of Reading Gaol, The Happy Prince and Other Tales
Quote: “When the gods choose to punish us, they merely answer our prayers.”
Trivia: Wilde fought with Bram Stoker (Dracula) over a woman, Florence Balcome. She married Stoker.
1. “The books that the world calls immoral are books that show the world its own shame.”
Have the courage to let your manuscript explore what you know to be true. If what you write shows some ugly truths, then it’s all the more reason to write it.
2. “Experience is merely the name men gave to their mistakes.”
It’s okay to make mistakes in your writing. Your first, second, and third drafts are not going to be perfect. What is important is what you learn from your mistakes -- how to accept criticism, how to improve writing. The more you fail, the more polished you’ll be the next time you try again. (But please, always, always, always try again.)
3. “To define is to limit.”
Don’t define yourself or your writing. If you want to write only mysteries, that’s fine, but feel free to branch out. If you limit yourself, it stands to reason that you’ll one day run out of stories to tell. Try poetry, songs, memoirs, etc. Be a surprise to yourself and to your audience.
4. “People ask a writer why he doesn’t write like another. If either of them did that he would cease to be an artist.”
No two authors are exactly alike, nor should they be. Find your own voice. If you mimic someone else, you’re just a cheap copy – you have nothing new to say and you’re not as interesting as the original. Be brave by showing your readers who you are. That is what art is about – bearing your soul so others may find beauty where they might not have otherwise.
5. “Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative.”
This point is very similar to the last two ones. Here, we’re not talking about consistency within a story; if your character has natural blond hair on page five, he shouldn’t have natural black hair on page one hundred. Wilde is advising against consistency throughout one’s writing career. To always write in one genre or one style limits you to follow a certain formula, and your writing becomes stale. Experiment with other modes of story-telling. If you always write romances, for example, try writing a thriller. See where new kinds of stories, ideas, characters, moods, etc. can take you.
6. “Books are never finished. They are merely abandoned.”
If you are looking to write the perfect book, you are going to be disappointed. Books can always be improved, even if you’re on the sixth draft. Eventually, you just have to stop and let the readers decide for themselves how your work is.
7. “An idea that is not dangerous is unworthy of being called an idea at all.”
Interesting thought, right? Don’t get too bogged down by this sentiment. Wilde was a believer in challenging the status quo. Instead, play with this view. Do you want to write something that is wholly new or has a new take on an experience? What makes it different? How could this difference be dangerous or challenging?
8. “There are no more than two rules for writing: having something to say, and saying it.”
Not as easy as it sounds. Do you know what you want to say? Wilde doesn’t want you to publish something of no importance. He wants you to make an honest comment about something. Now, how do you say it? That’s the big question. An honest book can take many forms, including satire, memoir, creative nonfiction, poetry, essays, etc.
9. “Make some sacrifice for your art, and you will be repaid, but ask of art to sacrifice herself for you and a bitter disappointment may come to you.”
Don’t expect to do well just because you wrote something and you think the world owes it to publish you. Your work has to show how much you labored for your craft. You do that by writing the best you possibly can -- have little to no grammar mistakes, make all your scenes and dialogue necessary to the story, show emotions, pay attention to detail, etc.
10. “I don’t play accurately-anyone can play accurately- but I play with wonderful expression. As far as the piano is concerned, sentiment is my forte. I keep science for Life.”
Wilde’s advice can also apply to writing. To play accurately is to follow specific genre formulas. To play with expression and sentiment is to give life to your manuscript by having relatable and believable characters, an engrossing plot, and a breathtaking climax.
Thank you to the people at the European Graduate School, Forbes, Good Reads, adSalsa, for providing information for this post.
If you would like to see the tips of your favorite author, please let us know in the comments.