Get an accountant, abstain from sex and similes, cut, rewrite, then cut and rewrite again – if all else fails, pray!”
Inspired by Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing, The Guardian asked authors for their personal dos and don’ts.
Set over a series of posts, here are those authors rules of writing. Some are more serious than others, feel free to accept, reject or adapt as required.
2. Put one word after another. Find the right word, put it down.
3. Finish what you’re writing. Whatever you have to do to finish it, finish it.
4. Put it aside. Read it pretending you’ve never read it before. Show it to friends whose opinion you respect and who like the kind of thing that this is.
5. 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.
6. Fix it. Remember that, sooner or later, before it ever reaches perfection, you will have to let it go and move on and start to write the next thing. Perfection is like chasing the horizon. Keep moving.
7. Laugh at your own jokes.
8. 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.
1. Write only when you have something to say.
2. Never take advice from anyone with no investment in the outcome.
3. Style is the art of getting yourself out of the way, not putting yourself in it.
4. If nobody will put your play on, put it on yourself.
5. Jokes are like hands and feet for a painter. They may not be what you want to end up doing but you have to master them in the meanwhile.
6. Theatre primarily belongs to the young.
7. No one has ever achieved consistency as a screenwriter.
8. Never go to a TV personality festival masquerading as a literary festival.
9. Never complain of being misunderstood. You can choose to be understood, or you can choose not to.
10. The two most depressing words in the English language are “literary fiction”.
1. Increase your word power. Words are the raw material of our craft. The greater your vocabulary the more effective your writing. We who write in English are fortunate to have the richest and most versatile language in the world. Respect it.
2. Read widely and with discrimination. Bad writing is contagious.
3. Don’t just plan to write – write. It is only by writing, not dreaming about it, that we develop our own style.
4. Write what you need to write, not what is currently popular or what you think will sell.
5. Open your mind to new experiences, particularly to the study of other people. Nothing that happens to a writer – however happy, however tragic – is ever wasted.
1. Have humility. Older/more experienced/more convincing writers may offer rules and varieties of advice. Consider what they say. However, don’t automatically give them charge of your brain, or anything else – they might be bitter, twisted, burned-out, manipulative, or just not very like you.
2. Have more humility. Remember you don’t know the limits of your own abilities. Successful or not, if you keep pushing beyond yourself, you will enrich your own life – and maybe even please a few strangers.
3. Defend others. You can, of course, steal stories and attributes from family and friends, fill in filecards after lovemaking and so forth. It might be better to celebrate those you love – and love itself – by writing in such a way that everyone keeps their privacy and dignity intact.
4. Defend your work. Organisations, institutions and individuals will often think they know best about your work – especially if they are paying you. When you genuinely believe their decisions would damage your work – walk away. Run away. The money doesn’t matter that much.
5. Defend yourself. Find out what keeps you happy, motivated and creative.
6. 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.
7. Read. As much as you can. As deeply and widely and nourishingly and irritatingly as you can. And the good things will make you remember them, so you won’t need to take notes.
8. Be without fear. This is impossible, but let the small fears drive your rewriting and set aside the large ones until they behave – then use them, maybe even write them. Too much fear and all you’ll get is silence.
9. Remember you love writing. It wouldn’t be worth it if you didn’t. If the love fades, do what you need to and get it back.
10. 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.
Check back soon for some more writing rules from authors.