Sunday, February 28, 2010

Ten Rules For Writing

Ten rules for writing fiction, written by yer honest-to-God writing luminaries: Hilary Mantel, Michael Moorcock, Michael Morpurgo, Andrew Motion, Joyce Carol Oates, Annie Proulx, Philip Pullman, Ian Rankin, Will Self, Helen Simpson, Zadie Smith, Colm Tóibín, Rose Tremain, Sarah Waters, Jeanette Winterson; Apparently its been causing a stir on twitter and whatnot, which makes me feel old, for some reason.

There is a lot of good stuff in there but as is my wont I shall now pick upon a few negative shards that caught my gaze.

A lot of them feel the need to repeat that one about "if you want to be a writer, well you just have to write", which seemed at first hearing, many years ago, to be helpful, if very glib, but upon turgid repetition just seems glib. What if I said I wanted to be a good writer, instead of just a writer, would you then think it helpful to tell me "oh well you just have to write well"?

Lots about how you should never use adverbs or any ornamentation, which is very good advice for certain kinds of writers, for instance people can't decide that sort of thing for themselves thanks very much. I have never understood saying take out all the adverbs. What kind of writer thinks that a whole class of words is out of bounds? When the hell do we get to use adverbs? That kind of thing stinks of the fashion for spare writing, which is all well and good but is just a fashion. It's not bad advice for the many people who tend to overwrite, but my take on it would be that person should write, reread and rewrite until it sounds like something they like, not mechanically cut out of the adverbs, or words with the letter w in it, or some other sacrifice to the gods.

David Hare, amongst other odd trinkets of wisdom, offers: "Never take advice from anyone with no investment in the outcome," which seems a monumentally strange thing to say in a column made of um advice, but what do I know.