“If It Sounds Like Writing, I Rewrite It”
Usually when the Guardian turns over the front half of the Review to authors it means everybody has gone on holiday and they are desperate to fill space. In a turn up for the books, yesterday’s feature was actually quite good. Inspired by Elmore Leonard’s Ten Rules Of Writing (presumably there is a new edition due) they have asked various writers for more of the same. Sometimes – as with Richard Ford – the answers are boring and stupid. Quite often they contain gems though.
Margaret Atwood: 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. If both pencils break, you can do a rough sharpening job with a nail file of the metal or glass type. Take something to write on. Paper is good. In a pinch, pieces of wood or your arm will do.
Roddy Doyle: Do keep a thesaurus, but in the shed at the back of the garden or behind the fridge, somewhere that demands travel or effort. Chances are the words that come into your head will do fine, eg “horse”, “ran”, “said”.
Helen Dunmore: If you fear that taking care of your children and household will damage your writing, think of JG Ballard.
Jonathan Frazen: Fiction that isn’t an author’s personal adventure into the frightening or the unknown isn’t worth writing for anything but money. [More prosaically he notes that “it’s doubtful that anyone with an internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction.”]
David Hare: Jokes are like hands and feet for a painter. They may not be what you want to end up doing but you have to master them in the meanwhile.
Hilary Mantel: First paragraphs can often be struck out. Are you performing a haka, or just shuffling your feet?
Michael Moorcock: My first rule was given to me by TH White, author of The Sword in the Stone and other Arthurian fantasies and was: Read. Read everything you can lay hands on. I always advise people who want to write a fantasy or science fiction or romance to stop reading everything in those genres and start reading everything else from Bunyan to Byatt.
Will Self: 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.
Colm Tóibín: No going to London.
Sarah Waters: 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, but I will make myself stay at my desk until I’ve got there, because I know that by doing that I am inching the book forward. Those 1,000 words might well be rubbish – they often are. But then, it is always easier to return to rubbish words at a later date and make them better.
I could quote the whole of Self’s advice. He also provides the most interesting section of the latest edition of the London Review of Books (so obviously they hide him away at the back like a ten-inch-long dildo on Clapham Common).