More writers’ “rules of writing” lists

March 10, 2022 | By Jim Stovall | Filed in: journalism.

A writers’ “rules of writing” list is always fun to read.

The quintessential list is that of Elmore Leonard, who has among his rules “never start with the weather” and “leave out the parts that readers will skip.”

The Guardian has recently asked several writers what their rules are, and here are a few highlights:

– Cut (perhaps that should be CUT): only by having no ­inessential words can every essential word be made to count. (Diana Athill)

– 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)

– Do not place a photograph of your ­favourite author on your desk, especially if the author is one of the famous ones who committed suicide. (Roddy Doyle)

– A problem with a piece of writing often clarifies itself if you go for a long walk. (Helen Dunmore)

– Don’t write in public places. In the early 1990s I went to live in Paris. The usual writerly reasons: back then, if you were caught writing in a pub in England, you could get your head kicked in, whereas in Paris, dans les cafés . . . Since then I’ve developed an aversion to writing in public. I now think it should be done only in private, like any other lavatorial activity. (Geoff Dyer)

– Marry somebody you love and who thinks you being a writer’s a good idea. (Richard Ford)

– It’s doubtful that anyone with an internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction. (Jonathan Franzen)

You can read everyone’s list here in The Guardian.

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