Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Writing Advice From Famous Authors

This has been circulating for a few day, but hey, it's good! So I'll circulate it too.

Here and here are two webpages full of lists of advice from a variety of respected authors. Some of their "rules" of very wise, some are very funny, and below I list enough of my favourites to fall afoul of the principles of Fair Use. Oops. I do recommend reading the full lists at the links above!
Margaret Atwood

1 Take a pencil to write with on aeroplanes. Pens leak. But if the pencil breaks, you can't sharpen it on the plane, because you can't take knives with you. Therefore: take two pencils.

5 Do back exercises. Pain is distracting.

7 [T]here'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.


Roddy Doyle

1 Do not place a photograph of your ­favourite author on your desk, especially if the author is one of the famous ones who committed suicide.

8 Do change your mind. Good ideas are often murdered by better ones.


Helen Dunmore

4 Reread, rewrite, reread, rewrite. If it still doesn't work, throw it away.

7 A problem with a piece of writing often clarifies itself if you go for a long walk.


Geoff Dyer

2 Don't write in public places. In the early 1990s I went to live in Paris. The usual writerly reasons: back then, if you were caught writing in a pub in England, you could get your head kicked in, whereas in Paris, dans les cafés... Since then I've developed an aversion to writing in public. I now think it should be done only in private, like any other lavatorial activity.


Anne Enright

1 The first 12 years are the worst.

3 Only bad writers think that their work is really good.


Richard Ford

1 Marry somebody you love and who thinks you being a writer's a good idea.

2 Don't have children.

3 Don't read your reviews.


Jonathan Franzen

6 The most purely autobiographical ­fiction requires pure invention. Nobody ever wrote a more auto­biographical story than "The Meta­morphosis".

8 It's doubtful that anyone with an internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction.


Esther Freud

7 Never forget, even your own rules are there to be broken.


Neil Gaiman

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.


David Hare

7 No one has ever achieved consistency as a screenwriter.

10 The two most depressing words in the English language are "literary fiction".


PD James

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.


AL Kennedy

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.

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.


Hilary Mantel

1 Are you serious about this? Then get an accountant.


Michael Moorcock

10 Ignore all proferred rules and create your own, suitable for what you want to say.


Michael Morpurgo

10 With all editing, no matter how sensitive – and I've been very lucky here – I react sulkily at first, but then I settle down and get on with it, and a year later I have my book in my hand.


Andrew Motion

5 Remember there is no such thing as nonsense.


Joyce Carol Oates

1 Don't try to anticipate an "ideal reader" – there may be one, but he/she is reading someone else.


Annie Proulx

1 Proceed slowly and take care.

2 To ensure that you proceed slowly, write by hand.


Philip Pullman

My main rule is to say no to things like this, which tempt me away from my proper work.


Ian Rankin

9 Get lucky.

10 Stay lucky.


Will Self

5 You know that sickening feeling of inadequacy and over-exposure you feel when you look upon your own empurpled prose? Relax into the awareness that this ghastly sensation will never, ever leave you, no matter how successful and publicly lauded you become. It is intrinsic to the real business of writing and should be cherished.

8 The writing life is essentially one of solitary confinement – if you can't deal with this you needn't apply.

9 Oh, and not forgetting the occasional beating administered by the sadistic guards of the imagination.


Zadie Smith

1 When still a child, make sure you read a lot of books. Spend more time doing this than anything else.

6 Avoid cliques, gangs, groups. The presence of a crowd won't make your writing any better than it is.


Colm Tóibín

3 Stay in your mental pyjamas all day.

7 If you have to read, to cheer yourself up read biographies of writers who went insane.


Sarah Waters

3 Treat writing as a job. Be disciplined. Lots of writers get a bit OCD-ish about this. Graham Greene famously wrote 500 words a day. Jean Plaidy managed 5,000 before lunch, then spent the afternoon answering fan mail. My minimum is 1,000 words a day – which is sometimes easy to achieve, and is sometimes, frankly, like shitting a brick...

9 Don't panic. Midway through writing a novel, I have regularly experienced moments of bowel-curdling terror, as I contemplate the drivel on the screen before me and see beyond it, in quick succession, the derisive reviews, the friends' embarrassment, the failing career, the dwindling income, the repossessed house, the divorce... Working doggedly on through crises like these, however, has always got me there in the end.

10 Talent trumps all. If you're a ­really great writer, none of these rules need apply.


Jeanette Winterson

4 Be honest with yourself. If you are no good, accept it. If the work you are doing is no good, accept it.

6 Take no notice of anyone you don't respect.


Author website: J. J. DeBenedictis

5 comments:

Peter Dudley said...

For me, the most useful and accurate is Neil Gaiman's.

jjdebenedictis said...

Peter: I liked the subtle truth of that one too.

However, I think I laughed loudest at "Are you serious about this? Then get an accountant."

Lynnette Labelle said...

Great list. I hadn't seen it yet, so thanks for posting it.

Lynnette Labelle
http://lynnettelabelle.blogspot.com

Sarah Laurenson said...

I laughed. I nodded. I snorted tea.

jjdebenedictis said...

Lynnette: I'm happy to share that wot amuses me. :)

Sarah: :D Sorry about your sinuses. I hope it wasn't hot tea.

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