Writing Advice From Douglas Adams

Douglas Adams, beloved author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series, would have been sixty-four last week. He died fifteen years ago, in 2001, but leaves behind a legacy of sharp, witty, inexorably British writing. Let’s honor his legacy by remembering what he’s said on the subject of writing.

Check out the previous installment of Writing Advice From David Mamet.

On Not Giving Up

“First of all, realize that it’s very hard, and that writing is a grueling and lonely business and, unless you are extremely lucky, badly paid as well. You had better really, really, really want to do it. Next, you have to write something.”

“Writing is easy. You only need to stare at a piece of blank paper until a drop of blood forms on your forehead.”

“The fact is that I don’t know where ideas come from, or even where to look for them. Nor does any writer. This is not quite true, in fact. If you were writing a book on the mating habits of pigs, you’d probably pick up a few goodish ideas by hanging around a barnyard in a plastic mac, but if fiction is your line, then the only real answer is to drink way too much coffee and buy yourself a desk that doesn’t collapse when you beat your head against it.”

Don’t give up. Writing takes time, and hard work, and most of all, persevering. You won’t get where you need to be going without putting in the time, and writing well — writing anything at all, in fact — will take a lot of proverbial banging your head against a wall.

On Avoiding Art

“Having been an English literary graduate, I’ve been trying to avoid the idea of doing art ever since. I think the idea of art kills creativity.”

This quote came from an interview with Adams about the release of Starship Titanic, a videogame that he wrote. Adams says the above to mean that you shouldn’t focus too much onto the limitations that others put on your work. The idea of ‘making art’ according to someone else means living up to someone else’s expectations of it, and failing by default. Don’t be afraid to do your own thing.

On Deadlines

“I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.”

Douglas Adams was notorious for tuning in work late, and writing quickly. As Terry Jones recalls, Adams wrote Starship Titanic to get a publisher off his back about a book advance he was given seven years prior. The lesson here is to take your time. Although, if you’re not a genius like Adams, perhaps it’s still better to be reliable than to turn in flawless work.

All quotes taken from The Salmon of Doubt: Hitchhiking the Galaxy One Last Time (2003).