Monday, 22 February 2010

Getting the engine warmed up

For those of you interested in writing fiction this and this may be of particular interest. It's a couple of dozen writers' top ten rules.

Here are a few that struck me:
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 #1) 
The first 12 years are the worst. (Anne Enright #1) 
The two most depressing words in the English language are "literary fiction" [pipped to the post by 'political theatre' in my view]. (David Hare #1) 
Unless you are writing something very avant-garde – all gnarled, snarled and "obscure" – be alert for possibilities of paragraphing. (Joyce Carol Oates #5) 
You know that sickening feeling of inadequacy and over-exposure you feel when you look upon your own empurpled prose? Relax into the awareness that this ghastly sensation will never, ever leave you, no matter how successful and publicly lauded you become. It is intrinsic to the real business of writing and should be cherished. (Will Self #5) 
Are you serious about this? Then get an accountant [you'll be doing extraordinarily well to need one, at least for the first few years]. (Hilary Mantel #4) 
Stay in your mental pyjamas all day. (Colm Tóibin #3)

My main rule is to say no to things like this, which tempt me away from my proper work. (Philip Pullman) 
You can never read your own book with the innocent anticipation that comes with that first delicious page of a new book, because you wrote the thing. You've been backstage. You've seen how the rabbits were smuggled into the hat. Therefore ask a reading friend or two to look at it before you give it to anyone in the publishing business. This friend should not be someone with whom you have a romantic relationship, unless you want to break up. (Margaret Atwood #8) [Usefully twinned with...
...this:] Remember: 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 #5) 
But a few tips came up again and again:
Read a lot.
Listen to what you've written.
Edit it and cut repeatedly and ruthlessly.
Write every day.
The last really rang a bell. In my experience, if you write every day (as I do for this blog) you can find yourself almost stumbling into fiction (at a loose end and almost absent-mindedly I wrote a novel over the Christmas period).

I'd noted the wisdom of this advice before, so much so that I bookmarked where I first read it. From a Q&A with journalist and author Laura Miller:
11. The best piece of advice you actually followed? 
Write every day. That way, the book you’re working on is never out of your awareness for long. It will always be percolating in the back of your mind, growing on its own. No part of writing is as hard as getting the engine warmed up, so try not to let it cool down.
I like that: writing is like pottering around in an old banger that can only be jump-started or bumped.

Reading through these rules one more time, I realise there's an obvious omission. And it may really be the sine qua non: 'somehow, anyhow, find time to dedicate to writing'. Tricky one that for most people. For what it's worth, not everyone can experience my good fortune...

9 comments:

worm said...

I went on an OU creative writing course last year and they gave us that same list I think

That's why I stated my blog too, because I hadn't written more than a sentence in years, and I have more or less totally forgotten how to string words together properly, like.

word def: sphables - greek stories of a circuitous nature

dearieme said...

The Great Lesson for Life: learn to say "no". (Unless you are one of those people who needs to learn to say "yes".)

Hey Skipper said...

So when will I be able to download your book onto my Kindle?

Vern said...

Neil Gaiman #5 is modified I think by Jeanette Winterson #6 (from the original piece) "Take no notice of anyone you don't respect."

Gadjo Dilo said...

Atwood and Gaiman's advice struck a chord with me, somebody who used to write poetry (and hopes to again) and on occasions shared it with others: Hell may be Other People, but a greater hell is surely Other People's Poetry. I intend to use that line in a (buttock-clenchingly awful) poem some day :-)

How is the health by the way? You appear so sprightly on the page that we almost forget you haven't been in the best of physical conditions.

Jackart said...

Dudley Moore: I'm writing a novel
Peter Cook: Neither am I.

Gaw said...

Worm: Was it useful?

Dearieme: Funnily enough it's not something I've ever thought about - which probably means I say 'yes' too much.

Skip: I'm in edit mode. A few weeks yet is my guess.

Vern: Surely you wouldn't show it to anyone you didn't respect? But then she probably means reviewers - and by that time you're facing up to some pleasantly higher quality problems.

Gadjo: I wrote some poems in my younger days. Versus fiction, even more difficult to know if they're rubbish and even more embarrassing if they are. Have you ever made yours public?

My health is improving and I'm doing some part-time work now. But until my next surgery (probably in May) I can't reach full fitness. So daily posting and other forms of hackery will continue for a while yet (I'm incredibly grateful for it as it's been such an incredible diversion.)

Gaw said...

Jackart: I'm afraid I beat you to it old boy:

http://gawragbag.blogspot.com/2009/12/neither-am-i.html

A favourite quotation!

Gadjo Dilo said...

Gaw, true enough, there's nothing quite as bad as bad poetry. And nope, not yet - looking back, there's only a couple that might possibly be any good, and even those could do with a bit work....

Well done on the health front.