Thursday, February 25, 2010

Your rules for writing

I really enjoyed Saturday Review's Ten rules for writing fiction feature and, judging by the stats for page hits and the buzz about it on Twitter and other sites, so did many others.

While Jonathan Franzen's point that "It's doubtful that anyone with an internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction" certainly hit where it hurts, I was struck by how many of the writers emphasised the point that, if you want to write then – to paraphrase – "just bloody write".

As Anne Enright says, "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." Neil Gaiman suggests, "1 Write. 2 Put one word after another. Find the right word, put it down." PD James urges [oops, that's one of Elmore Leonard's rules broken] "Don't just plan to write – write. It is only by writing, not dreaming about it, that we develop our own style", while AL Kennedy says: "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."

It comes down to discipline, says Jeanette Winterson: "Turn up for work. Discipline allows creative freedom. No discipline equals no freedom".

I disagreed with very few of the rules, however odd; I'm sure that if any children read the rules they will find Zadie Smith's first rule: "When still a child, make sure you read a lot of books. Spend more time doing this than anything else" helpful. Adults, I'm not so sure. I have to confess to being baffled by Andrew Motion's rule number 9: "Write for tomorrow, not for today". What does that mean?

- Michelle Pauli,

Read the rest of the article and readers' comments here.

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