Posted by: Paul | February 22, 2010

Writer’s Rules

The Guardian Review section published an entertaining, and timely, article this weekend where they asked published writers for their top ten rules for aspiring writers. An interesting response which didn’t only concentrate on the specifics of the trade of writing itself but also self discipline, finance, imagination, motivation, and beyond. Inspiring! Here’s my Top Ten of their Top Tens:

1. Turn up for work. Discipline allows creative freedom. No discipline equals no freedom. Jeanette Winterson.

2. Do it every day. Make a habit of putting your observations into words and gradually this will become instinct. This is the most important rule of all and, naturally, I don’t follow it. Geoff Dyer

3. 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. Margaret Atwood

4. Editing is everything. Cut until you can cut no more. What is left often springs into life. Esther Freud

5. Read it aloud to yourself because that’s the only way to be sure the rhythms of the sentences are OK (prose rhythms are too complex and subtle to be thought out – they can be got right only by ear). Diana Athill

6. A problem with a piece of writing often clarifies itself if you go for a long walk. Helen Dunmore – it’s astonishing how often this came up. Must be something in it.

7. Listen to the criticisms and preferences of your trusted “first readers”. Rose Tremain

8. Learn what criticism to accept. Ian Rankin

9. Stop feeling sorry for yourself. Colm Toibin – see 7 & 8.

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

And one for luck:

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.” Helen Simpson

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