I “discovered” writer Marc Schuster’s website, Abominations, a few weeks ago when he dropped by and left a comment on one of my posts. He runs a fantastic site with frequent posts that are always interesting and often laugh-out-loud funny—check out his post about mail sent to his deceased dog. I recommend you pay him a visit.
Recently, Marc posted a link to an interesting article in The Guardian that contained “rules for writing” from a number of well-known authors. Inspired by Elmore Leonard’s “10 Rules of Writing,” the dos and don’ts of the fourteen writers, including Margret Atwood and Neil Gaiman, made for interesting reading and analysis. As you might expect, the various lists had many commonailties—write every day; finish what you write; write what you like, not what you think will sell—but they also had a few that really jumped out at me, for example:
Interesting verbs are seldom very interesting.—Jonathan Frazen
Description is hard. Remember that all description is an opinion about the world. Find a place to stand.—Anne Enright
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.—Neil Gaiman
Of the lists, P. D. James’ struck the strongest chord with me. She had only five items in her list of “Ten Rules for Writing” (as a short story writer, I like her economy):
1. 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.
2. Read widely and with discrimination. Bad writing is contagious.
3. Don’t just plan to write—write. It is only by writing, not dreaming about it, that we develop our own style.
4. Write what you need to write, not what is currently popular or what you think will sell.
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.
All good words to write by.