Ten rules for writing fiction
I’ve enjoyed reading the 10 rules of famous writers in the Guardian’s Ten rules for writing fiction article. I’ve just picked the ones that resonate most with me. Some of them make a worthy list which puts me off ever reading any of their work, and some – Anne Enright in particular – sound so sensible and pithy that I feel sure I would like their books. Some of my particular favourites are:
From Margaret Atwood
You most likely need a thesaurus, a rudimentary grammar book, and a grip on reality. This latter means: there’s no free lunch. Writing is work. It’s also gambling. You don’t get a pension plan. Other people can help you a bit, but essentially you’re on your own. Nobody is making you do this: you chose it, so don’t whine.
From Anne Enright
(I don’t know who Anne Enright is, or what she writes, but I like so many of her rules so much that I may have to check out her work.)
The way to write a book is to actually write a book. A pen is useful, typing is also good. Keep putting words on the page.
Only bad writers think that their work is really good.
Try to be accurate about stuff.
Imagine that you are dying. If you had a terminal disease would you finish this book? Why not? The thing that annoys this 10-weeks-to-live self is the thing that is wrong with the book. So change it. Stop arguing with yourself. Change it. See? Easy. And no one had to die.
From AL Kennedy
Write. No amount of self-inflicted misery, altered states, black pullovers or being publicly obnoxious will ever add up to your being a writer. Writers write. On you go.
And from Neil Gaiman, who once again manages to be awesome:
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.
I thought I’d have a go at doing my own:
1. It doesn’t matter if someone else has done it before. You are a different person. Your version will be different. Don’t worry about striving for originality, just tell it the way you see it.
2. Remember all your characters are human (except for the non-humans). Make the humans as believable and complex as you can. Everyone’s a hero to themselves. No one is a stereotype. We are all individuals (except me). In so far as it is humanly possible, make your non-humans recognizably alien. Nothing’s worse than elves who are just humans with stuck on pointy ears.
3. Once you’ve started writing something, don’t stop until you’ve finished. Write the first draft all the way through before you start to edit.
4. Sometimes writing will be so hard you want to clean toilets instead. Write anyway. No one said it would be fun all the time.
5. Don’t trust your feelings. Your writing will sound like dreck to you one day, and transcendent the next. Compare it with the writing of published authors who you admire. Is it, objectively, anywhere near that standard? If not, improve.
6. But remember that you’re probably not as bad as you think. (Unless you think you’re a genius, in which case you’re probably a lot worse than you think.) Get a second opinion that you trust and then trust it.
7. Writing = telling the truth as you see it. Don’t let people tell you you don’t know your own truth, or you don’t have a right to your own stories or your own imagination. What comes out of you is, first and foremost, yours.
8. But do your research. If writing = telling the truth as you see it, put some effort into finding out what the truth is first. Study, research, read, think, listen, find out stuff. It’s one of the best things about the whole writing gig.
9. Write the book you most want to read. That way – even if no one else likes it – you get your dream book out of the deal.
10. Don’t pay too much attention to the writing gurus. Do it whatever way works for you.