The Best Advice for Writers

atkins-bookshelf-literatureWhen asked for advice for writers, the British novelist W. Somerset Maugham quipped, “There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately no one knows what they are.” That didn’t stop William Faulkner from sharing this brilliant insight about writing: “Writing is one-third imagination, one-third experience, and one-third observaton.” Amen. But no matter how you slice it, writing is difficult work. In 2010, The Guardian asked several prominent authors to share their ten rules for writing fiction. Bookshelf presents some of the best insights and advice about writing from this illuminating series:

“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

“Keep a diary. The biggest regret of my writing life is that I have never kept a journal or a diary.”
Geoff Dyer

“Do be kind to yourself. Fill pages as quickly as possible; double space, or write on every second line. Regard every new page as a small triumph.”
Roddy Doyle

“Reread, rewrite, reread, rewrite. If it still doesn’t work, throw it away. It’s a nice feeling, and you don’t want to be cluttered with the corpses of poems and stories which have everything in them except the life they need.”
Helen Dunmore

“Imagine that you are dying. If you had a terminal disease would you ­finish this book? Why not? The thing that annoys this 10-weeks-to-live self is the thing that is wrong with the book. So change it. Stop arguing with yourself. Change it. See? Easy. And no one had to die.”
Anne Enright

“Don’t wait for inspiration. Discipline is the key.
Esther Freud

“The main rule of writing is that if you do it with enough assurance and confidence, you’re allowed to do whatever you like. (That may be a rule for life as well as for writing. But it’s definitely true for writing.) So write your story as it needs to be written. Write it ­honestly, and tell it as best you can. I’m not sure that there are any other rules. Not ones that matter.”
Neil Gaiman

“Increase your word power. Words are the raw material of our craft. The greater your vocabulary the more ­effective your writing. We who write in English are fortunate to have the richest and most versatile language in the world. Respect it.”
PD James

“Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip. Think of what you skip reading a novel: thick paragraphs of prose you can see have too many words in them.”
Elmore Leonard

“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.”
Al Kennedy

Read related post: William Faulkner on the Writer’s Duty
The Responsibility of the Poet
The Power of Literature
Why Writers Write

For further reading: Writing Changes Everything: The 627 Best Things Anyone Ever Said About Writing by Deborah Brodie, St. Martins Press (1997)




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