Monday, February 22, 2010

Ten Rules for Writing Fiction

The Observer yesterday published advice from a number of writers who were asked to submit 10 rules for writing fiction. The advice submitted included some very detailed, some very concise and some flippant efforts.

I love reading this kind of thing but find them completely useless as advice. Great to justify any particular stance you wish to adopt and argue about at the moment though. In general the best advice is get on with it. If you want to write, write.

Margaret Atwood's advice is great: 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.

A few refused to provide ten rules. Helen Simpson wrote: 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."

Some extracts from Irish authors' advice in the piece:

Colm Tobin's: If you have to read, to cheer yourself up read biographies of writers who went insane.

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

Roddy Doyle: Do keep a thesaurus, but in the shed at the back of the garden or behind the fridge, somewhere that demands travel or effort. Chances are the words that come into your head will do fine, eg "horse", "ran", "said".

Poet Andrew Motion's Rule no. 10 is Work hard.

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