Advice from the Masters: Raymond Chandler on Writing Time

Dec 7, 2011 | Better Writing

Raymond Chandler lived a life that was as colorful as his main character, Philip Marlowe. Although he was an American, he travelled to Canada in 1917 to join a Scottish Regiment (the Gordon Highlanders) in order to fight the Germans in France. After honorable service in the war, where he was promoted to sergeant, he returned to the US where he married a woman who forged documents to support her claim of being a decade younger than she was. Chandler went to work in the oil business, but was fired for drunkenness. That’s when he started writing.

His character, Philip Marlowe, is one of the prototypes of the hard-boiled private detective. His writing is superb. Here’s some of his advice about writing, taken from The Raymond Chandler Papers.

“The important thing is that there should be a space of time, say four hours a day at least when a professional writer doesn’t do anything else but write. He doesn’t have to write, and if he doesn’t feel like it, he shouldn’t try. He can look out of the window, or stand on his head, or writhe on the floor. But he is not to do any other positive thing, not read, write letters, glance at magazines, or write checks. Write or nothing.”

Later Chandler sums this all up.

“Two very simple rules, a) you don’t have to write, b) you can’t do anything else.”

They work for me and they might just work for you.

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