The Session of Sweet, Silent Thought

The Books section of the Guardian has posted advice from a broad spectrum of writers about 10 Rules for Writing Fiction inspired by Elmore Leonard’s ten commandments. It’s a cool list of writers that includes Jeanette Winterson, Michael Moorcock, Philip Pullman, Sarah Waters, Margaret Atwood, Roddy Doyle, Anne Enright, Geoff Dyer, Will Self, Neil Gaiman, and more.

It’s fascinating what each writer considers important to the writing experience. There’s some gems there as well as duds. The best advice I took away from it would be this holy trinity: Write, edit, and edit some more. The most pointless don’t was this one from Richard Ford: “Don’t have children.” Total crap. That’s like saying don’t have sex unless you mean to have offspring. Actually his rules are the weakest of the bunch. Which leads perfectly into this advice from Moorcock: “Ignore all proferred rules and create your own, suitable for what you want to say.”

And to get semantic, I’m not sure “rules” is the best noun to use. I’d use “advice.” Rules imply an explicit adhering to, and if I come away with anything from these rules, I think it is use at your own discretion.

Here are the 15 I would be able to live and work with, tacked up beside my writing desk along with the most useful advice I’ve come across in a long while: “Keep Calm and Carry On.”

1. Write

2. Love what you do. (Winterson))

4. Trust your creativity. (Winterson)

5. Do it every day. The most important rule of all and, naturally, one I don’t follow. (Dyer)

6. When people tell you something is 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. (Gaiman)

7. Never take advice from anyone with no investment in the outcome. (David Hare)

8. Write whatever way you like. Fiction is made of words on a page; reality is made of something else. It doesn’t matter how “real” your story is, or how “made up”: what matters is its necessity. (Enright)

9. Write for tomorrow, not today (Motion)

10. Always carry a notebook. The short-term memory only retains information fro three minutes. (Self)

11. Turn up for work. Discipline allows creative freedom. No discipline equals no freedom. (Winterson)

12. Stop reading fiction, it’s all lies anyway, and it doesn’t have anything to tell you that you don’t already know (assuming that is, you’ve read a great deal of fiction in the past). (Self)

13. Have more than one idea on the go at any moment. If it’s a choice between writing a book and doing nothing I will always choose the later. (Dyer)

14. Protect the time and space in which you write. (Zadie Smith)

15. Hold the reader’s attention. (Atwood)

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