Recently the Guardian newspaper asked established novelists to share their Ten Rules of Writing Fiction. Twenty-eight authors responded with guidance on everything from adverbs (a mortal sin) to sex (abstain from sex and similes) to travel (Margaret Atwood suggests that you take a pencil to write on “aeroplanes,” since pens leak.) Philip Pullman rather snippily said that his main rule is to say no to requests that take him away from his proper work.
And I got to thinking: I teach a lot of writing workshops, and I correspond with many young and newbie writers. Wouldn’t it be efficient to be able to sum up all of my wisdom in a few key rules? Is it even possible? Could I tell you all you need to know about writing in ten Tweets?
OK, I’m a fantasy writer. Ten rules is so not enough. With ten rules, I’m just clearing my throat.
Let’s begin with craft, and I’ll follow on tomorrow with ten rules for The Writing Life.
1. If you get your characters right, they’ll write the book for you while you cheer them on.
2. The most important thing to know about your characters is what they want, and what’s in the way.
3. Be kind to yourself when you are writing a first draft. It’s a scary business.
4. It’s always best to write a first draft when the editor in your head is asleep.
5. When it’s time for revision, shake her awake and give her a strong cup of coffee.
6. If you want to be a writer, you’d better learn to love revision.
7. You can learn a lot about writing novels from the movies. In a movie, story is delivered in scene, through action and dialogue. There’s no author getting in the way, explaining what needs no explanation.
8. Trust your readers and give them room. Readers and writers are partners in story—both contribute to the final work.
9. In real life, we get to know people through what they do and say. Allow your readers to get to know your characters in the same way.
10. It’s not about the idea. It’s about the execution. Really, it is.