Saturday's selection of expert advice on how to write fiction has generated a lot of interest. But we'd like to know your maxims, too
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?
Except for the "no excuses, just get on with it" rule which simply cannot be argued with, perhaps Michael Moorcock has the last word on rules for writing with "Ignore all proffered rules and create your own, suitable for what you want to say". For me, and I didn't see this one on anyone's list (perhaps because it applies less to the, frankly terrifying, world of fiction writing than to non-fiction or journalism) is to break it down. It's not a daunting 1,500-word piece, it's a (slightly) less daunting six sections of 250 words; it's a 100-word intro and then four key points of 350 words each. Or, on really bad days, it's a 30-word quote followed by 10 (hopefully) original linking words followed by another 30 word quote followed by ...
We want to know what your own rules, "suitable for what you want to say" are. Claire Armitstead will be discussing the rules for writing with the novelist Toby Litt in this week's Guardian books podcast. Litt, who was named one of Granta's 20 "Best of Young British Novelists" in 2003, studied creative writing at the University of East Anglia where he was taught by Malcolm Bradbury, and now teaches the MA in creative writing at Birkbeck College. As well as considering the rules in the feature, Claire and Toby want to hear your reaction to the rules and especially:
- Which did you find particularly helpful?
- Which did you find irrelevant?
- What are your own rules for writing?
Don't forget – a pen is useful, so's a pencil, but typing is also good. Over to you.