“Rules for Writing”

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.

About D. Thomas Minton

Writer of speculative fiction
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5 Responses to “Rules for Writing”

  1. Marc Schuster says:

    Thanks for mentioning my blog! I especially like Anne Enright’s dictum to find a place to stand, and all of PD James’ advice is priceless, too.

  2. Pingback: Rich and Versatile, Indeed | D. Thomas Minton

  3. Pingback: Three More “Rules for Writing” | D. Thomas Minton

  4. elmowrites says:

    Great summary – I found you through the Writing tag and I’ll definitely be keeping an eye on your posts in future.
    Neil Gaiman’s comment is fascinating, isn’t it? I recently posted about critique and I absolutely believe that the more specific it is, the more useful it is. But I agree with him too; suggestions on how to remedy a fault should be taken as exactly that – springboards for the author to find his or her own solution to the problem identified.

    • Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment. I also found Gaiman’s comment dead on (based on personal experiene). Critiques are valuable, but a writer shouldn’t read too much into them. Ultimately, a critique is simply another person’s opinion, and the story is my story not his or hers.

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