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Roald Dahl's Misleading Advice for Writers

Those who do shouldn't teach.

Roald Dahl’s Advice for Writers is foreign to me. A complete narrative is a model of human psychology. Remove the assumed "magic" from creative writing, and you remove the need to conjure something up by drinking your ego into submission.

On working a “real job” also fails to connect:

“I enjoyed it. I really did. I began to realize how simple life could be if one had a regular routine to follow with fixed hours and a fixed salary and very little original thinking to do. The life of a writer is absolute hell compared with the life of a business man.”

Original thinking? This notion is the curse of ego—the idea that I am the source of all creative endeavors.

“The writer has to force himself to work. He has to make his own hours and if he doens’t go to his desk at all there is nobody to scold him.”

If you know the subtext and sincere thematic intent of your story, you don’t need to “force” yourself to work. You know what you want to say, Subtext helps you organize that intention, and writing becomes a daily process of joy and exploration. A lack of motivation to write is a lack of awareness of purpose.

“If he is a writer of fiction he lives in a world of fear. Each new day demands new ideas and he can never be sure whether he is going to come up with them or not.”

What a depressing and defeatist attitude. This idea is accurate if you believe writing is a magical science reserved for few. Writing a story is an analogy for something all of us do every day (think).

The idea that one needs to drink to recover from the physical exhaustion of writing is yet another example of a fragile ego. Turning to drink is an attempt to alter one’s state of mind. It’s no surprise that characters given to drink (Rick Blaine in Casablanca and William Munny in Unforgiven) find conflict in a state of Mind, and in particular, the area of the Subconscious (Both films feature a Main Character Domain of Mind and a Main Character Concern of Subconscious). The Subconscious is where the ego goes to hide—and represents the fundamental basis for motivation. Numb the Subconscious with drink, and you can continue to delude yourself into thinking this is the price one pays for a creative life.

A person is a fool to become a writer. His only compensation is absolute freedom. He has no master except his own soul, and that, I am sure, is why he does it.”

Having identified Dahl’s drive (and the drive of thousands who retweet this quote) as freedom, it’s clear why he feels the need to drink. Dahl feels hopeless and subservient to the whims of his creative ego. This shortcoming will be a problem for him—and a problem for the millions of writers who follow his advice. By installing this Problem in the collective hard drive for creative writing, Dahl ensures an endless for loop with no break in sight—writers who believe Dahl will be at the mercy of their ego.

The Solution is simple. It’s the same Solution for all Problems of Freedom: Control. Measured, directed response in the service of purpose—in other words, a Premise. A plan. A narrative structure set by the Artist’s message. Directing one’s efforts towards illustrating intent (through storyform and Subtext) guarantees a life where hope no longer exists as an excuse for suffering.

Hope becomes the reasonable expectation that the next great story is right around the corner.