3.01.2010

Rules for Writing From Writers Who… Write

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Inspired by Elmore Leonard's 10 Rules of Writing, The Guardian recently collected the opinions of well known authors. They were asked to come up their own 10 rules for writing.  I chose my favorite from each author. What is your favorite rule of writing? Share in the comments.
Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip. Think of what you skip reading a novel: thick paragraphs of prose you can see have too many words in them.
- Elmore Leonard

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. Almost always it turns out that they’d be better dead. (Not every little twinge of satisfaction is suspect – it’s the ones which amount to a sort of smug glee you must watch out for.)
- Diana Athil

Don’t sit down in the middle of the woods. If you’re lost in the plot or blocked, retrace your steps to where you went wrong. Then take the other road. And/or change the person. Change the tense. Change the opening page.
- Margaret Atwood

Do change your mind. Good ideas are often murdered by better ones. I was working on a novel about a band called the Partitions. Then I decided to call them the Commitments.
- Roddy Doyle

Finish the day’s writing when you still want to continue.
- Helen Dunmore

Beware of clichés. Not just the clichés that Martin Amis is at war with. There are clichés of response as well as expression. There are clichés of observation and of thought – even of conception. Many novels, even quite a few adequately written ones, are clichés of form which conform to clichés of expectation.
- Geoff Dyer

Only bad writers think that their work is really good.
- Anne Enright

Don’t drink and write at the same time.
- Richard Ford

Never use the word “then” as a conjunction – we have “and” for this purpose. Substituting “then” is the lazy or tone-deaf writer’s non-solution to the problem of too many “ands” on the page.
- Jonathan Franzen

A story needs rhythm. Read it aloud to yourself. If it doesn’t spin a bit of magic, it’s missing something.
- Esther Freud

Put one word after another. Find the right word, put it down.
- Neil Gaiman

Never complain of being misunderstood. You can choose to be understood, or you can choose not to.
- David Hare

Read widely and with discrimination. Bad writing is contagious.
- PD James

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