Jan 1, 2015

10 rules for writing fiction from The Guardian

In 2010 The Guardian asked a few well-known authors to surrender a shortlist of their personal do’s and don’ts. The result was a two part series full of brilliant insight and amusing contradiction. These are my ten favorites, chosen from over two hundred.

  • “Never complain of being misunderstood. You can choose to be understood, or you can choose not to.” — David Hare

  • “Keep your exclamation points ­under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.” — Elmore Leonard

  • “The reader is a friend, not an adversary, not a spectator.” — Jonathan Franzen

  • “You don’t always have to go so far as to murder your darlings — those turns of phrase or images of which you felt extra proud when they appeared on the page — but go back and look at them with* a very beady eye*.” — Diana Athill

  • “Do keep a thesaurus, but in the shed at the back of the garden or behind the fridge, somewhere that demands travel or effort.” — Roddy Doyle

  • “Take a pencil to write with on aeroplanes. Pens leak. But if the pencil breaks, you can’t sharpen it on the plane, because you can’t take knives with you. Therefore: take two pencils.” — Margaret Atwood

  • “Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.” — Neil Gaiman

  • “If you get stuck, get away from your desk. Take a walk, take a bath, go to sleep, make a pie, draw, listen to ­music, meditate, exercise; whatever you do, don’t just stick there scowling at the problem. But don’t make telephone calls or go to a party; if you do, other people’s words will pour in where your lost words should be. Open a gap for them, create a space. Be patient.” — Hilary Mantel

  • “You can also do all that with whiskey.” — Anne Enright

  • “Regard yourself as a small corporation of one. Take yourself off on team-building exercises (long walks). Hold a Christmas party every year at which you stand in the corner of your writing room, shouting very loudly to yourself while drinking a bottle of white wine. Then masturbate under the desk. The following day you will feel a deep and cohering sense of embarrassment.” — Will Self

Question or comment?