Rules for Writing

I recently read an article in the Guardian titled “Ten Rules for Writing Fiction”. It was primarily a platform to promote Elmore Leonard’s new book 10 Rules of Writing. Of course, six of the ten Leonard rules I’ve been guilty of breaking.

But the article went to garner ten rules from 28 other authors, some familiar writers, others more obscure. There were a few comical tips, like Get an Accountant, or Abstain from Sex, but many of the authors shared common ground in their suggestions: read, a lot and widely; editing is important; get in the habit of writing every day; cut out all the prose that readers skip over; and read your work out loud to improve it.

Pretty basic stuff until one recommendation caught my attention. Hilary Mantel’s second rule was to read the book Becoming a Writer by Dorothea Brande. I bought it and was instantly engaged by the content. It’s not the typical how to write book. Originally published in 1934, it was out of print for a number of years. The edition I bought included a foreword by John Gardner where he pretty much said he thought it was the most important book to read if you want to write fiction.

A warning though – it’s scary. Frightening because she makes a bold statement fairly early on. If someone wants to write but can’t manage to complete the first two exercises she assigns, then give up writing. Yes, that’s precisely what she says – Stop writing if you can’t learn to write first thing in the morning, and at a preset time each day for a couple of weeks. It’s all about taming what she labels the unconscious writer.

 She goes on to give an insightful prescription on how a beginning writer can use those daily musings to gain a sense of direction. It’s based on understanding the strengths of your individual unconscious writer, the voice within.

 Find the article, and see which of the rules capture your imagination

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