Writing Advice from Three Fictional White Guys

Want to succeed in writing? Look for help from the older fictional white guys you see in movies. 

Advice #1 arrives from Albus Dumbledore of Harry Potter fame. Dumbledore has zillions of inspirational one-liners, but my favorite comes from The Chamber of Secrets: “It is our choices, Harry,” he says, “that show us what we truly are, far more than our abilities.” 

The writing connection? In my experience, writing books has been much less about talent, genius, muses, and lightning bolts. It’s been much more about sitting in the chair (or on the couch or in the bed) and typing one word after another. Despite my love for Harry Potter, I haven’t discovered any particular writing magic. You just make the choice to show up day after day, even when it’s hard and scary–just like it was hard and scary for Harry to slay the basilisk when he was only twelve years old.

Advice #2 comes from Frank the Tank of the beloved classic, Old School. Frank isn’t quite as pithy as Albus. His opus includes, “We’re going streaking!” and “I like you, but you’re crazy,” and of course the best writing advice: “Keep truckin’.”

Other people have said, “Keep truckin’,” but in my head, it’s always Will Farrell. No villain in 150 pages of your first draft? Keep truckin’. No clear timeline? Keep truckin’. Deleting a major or minor character from first draft to second? Keep truckin’. Sudden death after nude wrestling in KY Jelly? Keep–oh wait, no. That’s, “I see Blue. He’s glorious!”

And finally, we have the lovable conman Freddy Benson in the 1988 smash hit, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. As Freddy’s Gram Gram taught him, “It is better to be truthful and good than to not.”

The best and most unexpected part of becoming a writer has been joining a community of other people trying to make books. Freddy’s Gram Gram is right on: be open about your journey, give big book love to the authors you admire, and treat others how you’d like to be treated. Gratitude, humility, hard work, and all that. Definitely not cons. Come to think of it, Freddy didn’t quite learn this lesson in the film, but he should have. Fake Gram Gram for the win.

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Kathleen West

Kathleen West is the author of the forthcoming novel, Minor Dramas & Other Catastrophes, out 2/4/20 from Berkley. She lives in Minneapolis with her family.

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