The very last article that Frank Herbert wrote before his passing in February of 1986 was writing advice to contestants of this very contest. His article appeared in “Writers of the Future Volume II.” I wanted to share that essay with you today:
THE SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT PIECE OF ADVICE
by Frank Herbert
The single most important piece of advice I ever got was to concentrate on story. What is “story”? It’s the quality that keeps the reader following the narrative. A good story makes interesting things happen to a character with whom the reader can identify. And it keeps them happening, so that the character progresses and grows in stature.
A writer’s job is to do whatever is necessary to make the reader want to read the next line. That’s what you’re suppose to be thinking about when you’re writing a story. Don’t think about money, don’t think about success; concentrate on the story—don’t waste your energy on anything else. That all takes care of itself, if you’ve done your job as a writer. If you haven’t done that, nothing helps.
I first heard this from literary agent Lurton Blassingame, a highly respected expert on successful storytellers and storytelling. He’s a man who’s been watching writers’ careers and building writers’ careers for decades. And I have heard essentially the same thing from many other successful figures in writing; some of the top writers in the world have said it. It is the best advice I can give beginners.
I’d also like to say something about older hands helping newcomers. Like many other established writers, I teach students on frequent occasions and lecture to many other audiences anxious for advice on writing. I’m very happy to be able to lend my help to the Writers of the Future program. From time to time, though, people have come up to me and asked why I want to “create competition” by helping newcomers.
Talking about “competition” in that way is nonsense! The more good writers there are, the more good readers there will be. We’ll all benefit—writers and readers alike!
So the other piece of advice I have for newcomers is: “Remember how you learned, and when your turn comes, teach.”