Writing Advice From Martin Amis

Martin Amis is a British writer who published his first novel, The Rachel Papers (1973), when he was only 24. The son of esteemed novelist Kingsley Amis, he has since forged his own legacy with several highly acclaimed novels which include Money (1984), London Fields (1989), and The Information (1995). Throughout the course of his career, he has become the voice of contemporary British fiction along with Ian McEwan and Salman Rushdie. Despite Amis’ numerous achievements, the one that sticks out to me the most is the fact that he got away with titling his second novel Dead Babies.

Yesterday, Amis showed up to my English class unannounced. Here, without commentary, are the remarks he made on the creative process and several suggestions he had for young writers.


“The one rule about writing a memoir is that you must either be distinguished or have had an interesting life. But most writers’ lives are devoid of incident. It’s mostly just scratching your ass, picking your nose, and walking around your study.”

“What slows you down [when writing] fiction is the cumbersome but satisfying business of shaping life into something balanced and artistic.”

“The difference between fiction and life is the difference between a woman’s corked shoe and the lump of flesh at the other end of your leg.”

“The truth is not going to be told in any version. Verifiable truth disappears with the event. All you’re left with is the reaction to it.”

“The subconscious mind is cleverer than the conscious mind.”

On what he’s learned from writing fiction: “You have to earn things. There are some things I’ve tried writing about that I haven’t yet earned the rights to. It’s about feeling the weight of [the subject] and suffering for it.”

On the physical act of writing: “I always do my draft in long hand because even the ink is part of the flow.”

“Every writer worth anything has got a bit of genius.”

“Talent is learned and genius is innate. But some novels are failures for letting genius overwhelm them and forgetting about the talent.”

“When does a paragraph need no further work? It depends on your inner ear. There should be no obvious blemishes, no elbows sticking out.”

“The novel is an extended piece of prose with something wrong with it.”

On whether his father’s legacy shaped how he viewed writing: “Nothing is more banal than what your father does for a living. Even if he’s a fire-eater. But writing is not the slightest bit banal… it’s ruthless.”

On writing about what you haven’t experienced personally: “You need an obsession. A desire to put your thumb on historical seals, to alter the impossible.”

Advice he gave to writers (while rolling himself a cigarette): “Get to the end. Be headstrong.” Thought Catalog Logo Mark

image – SlimVirgin

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