11 Tips H.P. Lovecraft Had for Novice Writers

“Avoid reading so as not to taint your creative brilliance; ignore any rules of grammar and syntax that are too complex and boring; and never, ever revise.” — writing tips never given by successful authors

Lovecraft is not my favorite author — in part because the horror conventions he experimented with are now so common that the experienced reader can see a mile away every plot twist and complication that Lovecraft is trying to be subtle about. He’s no less subtle in his delivery of advice to the aspiring writer, but that’s fine with me — he’s not afraid to do some remedial grammar, and he’s very clear that spending some time with grammar references will help the novice writer earn the right to toss off prose with seemingly effortless abandon. (And he doesn’t give the advice that I parody above, though I’ve had more than a few students who seem to want to be given that advice.)

H.P. Lovecraft, science fiction writer and creator of Cthulhu and the Necronomicon, often contributed to The United Amateur, the “Official Organ of the United Amateur Press Association.” In a January 1920 article titled “Literary Composition,” Lovecraft laid out guidelines for beginning writers to keep in mind. Here are 11 of them.



“It is necessary … to caution the beginner to keep a reliable grammar and dictionary always beside him, that he may avoid in his compositions the frequent errors which imperceptibly corrupt even the purest ordinary speech,” Lovecraft writes. “The human memory is not to be trusted too far, and most minds harbor a considerable number of slight linguistic faults and inelegancies picked up from random discourse or from the pages of newspapers, magazines, and popular modern books.” Mental Floss.

Other tips involve advice to read, to keep a dictionary and grammar handbook available at all times, and to use the Bible as an example of direct, powerful writing. (The original essay is a bit wordy — “Of all blunders, there is hardly one which might not be avoided through diligent study of simple textbooks on grammar and rhetoric, intelligent perusal of the best authors, and care and forethought in composition. Almost no excuse exists for their persistent occurrence, since the sources of correction are so numerous and so available. Many of the popular manuals of good English are extremely useful, especially to persons whose reading is not as yet extensive; but such works sometimes err in being too pedantically precise and formal,” but if the Spark Notes version on Mental Floss leaves you wanting more, it’s worth a read.)