Advice From A Successful Author – Roald Dahl

roald dahl photo by carl van vechten

Roald Dahl was a World War II fighter pilot and an accidental author who sold 250 million copies of children’s books. Imagine that.

“Ideas come from tiny germs and you rattle it around and hope for the best and build up a story.”

Roald Dahl

They say if you want to be successful at something, find someone to model. Luckily there are clues left behind by Dahl on what it takes to be a better writer.

Here is a digest of those thoughts.

  1. Create a creative space. Dahl built himself a little shed in his yard and filled its walls with ideas, prompts, photos, snippets of writing, curios and anything else that sparked a thought for him. That way he never looked at a blank wall and his inspiration was triggered.
  2. Write for someone else. Sure, if you want to be commercial you need to have a target audience in mind and write the style of book they’re wanting to read but Dahl was more personal. Think of someone you know and write your book/s for them. That way you’ll imbue emotion and find the words may come more easily.
  3. Find the bit of grit in your oyster. ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ came from Dahl’s experience as a school kid receiving Cadbury samples from the factory: it got him to wondering and thinking ‘what if’s‘ which grew into a highly successful book. The nub of an idea can be just like a bit of grit in an oyster that creates a pearl – ideas can be very small and grow.
  4. Make your bad guys cruel. Dahl’s personal experiences of bullying made him recognise that people can be cruel to others and that behaviour highlights the depth of the experience for the person on the receiving end. Add a dash of cruelty so readers empathise more with your protagonist and want to see the baddie get his/her comeuppance.
  5. Keep a journal. Really. A ‘dear diary‘ harbours tons of material you can use in your stories. Jot down snippets of conversation, moments that impacted you, experiences you had and draw on those personal anecdotes to sprinkle into or inspire stories.
  6. Write always. You don’t have to be working on your big story. Use downtime to pen poems or shorts or ditties. Keep in the writing habit even when you aren’t working on a project. (Tip – that’s why writers groups are good for you – they force you to write when you don’t want to!)
  7. Think like a child. You may be grown-up but a kid is full of wonder. Ignite your creativity by being a kid at times and look at your story ideas through your child’s eye and their sense fo imagination where anything is possible.
  8. Never be satisfied. When you’ve written a piece, aim to write it better. Rewrite until you’ve extracted the best writing from yourself. Perfectionism is a blunt tool but for a writer it is essential to get the best writing done. It’s rare for a first draft to make it to publication.

Read the original article that inspired this piece here.

Visit the official Roald Dahl site for full information on Dahl and his works.