Rules for Writing

The Guardian recently ran a series of two articles titled, “Ten Rules for Writing Fiction.” It was inspired by Elmore Leonard’s famous and fabulous list (which I wrote about back in Oct, 2008). The folks at The Guardian asked a long list of impressive writers for their personal do’s and don’ts. You can check out the original, lengthy articles here . . . and here.

As a public service, here are a few highlights:

Diana Athill: “Cut (perhaps that should be CUT): only by having no inessential words can every essential word be made to count.

Anne Enright: “The first 12 years are the worst.”

Anne Enright: “Only bad writers think that their work is really good.”

Anne Enright: “Try to be accurate about stuff.”

Richard Ford: “Don’t read your reviews.”

Jonathan Franzen: “You see more sitting still than chasing after.”

Neil Gaiman: “The main rule of writing is that if you do it with enough assurance and confidence, you’re allowed to do whatever you like. (That may be a rule for life as well as for writing. But it’s definitely true for writing.) So write your story as it needs to be written. Write it honestly, and tell it as best you can. I’m not sure that there are any other rules. Not ones that matter.”

David Hare: “Style is the art of getting yourself out of the way, not putting yourself in it.”

PD James: “Read widely and with discrimination. Bad writing is contagious.”

PD James: “Nothing that happens to a writer — however happy, however tragic — is ever wasted.”

AL Kennedy: “Remember writing doesn’t love you. It doesn’t care. Nevertheless, it can behave with remarkable generosity. Speak well of it, encourage others, pass it on.”

Michael Morpurgo: “It is the gestation time which counts.”

Andrew Motion: “Work hard.”

Joyce Carol Oates: “Keep a light, hopeful heart. But expect the worst.”

Helen Simpson: “The nearest I have to a rule is a Post-It on the wall in front of my desk saying “Faire et se taire” (Flaubert), which I translate for myself as “Shut up and get on with it.”

Zadie Smith: “Work on a computer that is disconnected from the internet.”

Rose Tremain: “Forget the boring old dictum “write about what you know.” Instead, seek out an unknown yet knowable area of experience that’s going to enhance your understanding of the world and write about that.”

Sarah Waters: “Novels are for readers, and writing them means the crafty, patient, selfless construction of effects.”

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