How To Write Like Mr Kurt Vonnegut (Or Die Trying)

2 weeks agoWords by Mr Jim Merrett

Mr Kurt Vonnegut Jr, New York, mid-1980s. Photograph by Mr Oliver Morris/Getty Images

The novel, it is often noted, is dead, and Mr Kurt Vonnegut, who passed away in 2007, is certainly, sadly, deader. But even when he was alive, the great American author was the first to question the validity of his chosen profession. “You’ll never make a living at being a writer,” he reportedly told students in a writing class he was teaching (although, truth be told, Mr Vonnegut did). “Hell, you may even die trying. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t write. You should write for the same reasons you should take dancing lessons. For the same reason you should learn what fork to use at a fancy dinner. For the same reason you need to see the world. It’s about grace.”

But is the grace of Mr Vonnegut’s own writing something that can be taught? Ms Suzanne McConnell believes so. She was one of the students to take Mr Vonnegut’s Iowa Writers’ Workshop course in the 1960s. Now a writing tutor and editor herself, Ms McConnell has compiled Pity The Reader, a book that assembles much of the Slaughterhouse-Five author’s scattered thoughts on writing in one place, strung together in a very, well, Vonnegutian manner. So it goes.

“When I write, I feel like an armless, legless man with a crayon in his mouth,” Mr Vonnegut once wrote. “Is this advice?” Ms McConnell asks. “It is for me. It says: You can do it. Every writer feels inept. Even Kurt Vonnegut. Just stick to your chair and keep on typing.” Here are five other writing tips from Mr Vonnegut.