Monday, February 22, 2010

Writers on Writing in The Guardian

British newspaper The Guardian asked authors both literary and genre to provide pithy tips for those of us just getting started. Excerpts:
• Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose. (Elmore Leonard)

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

• Reread, rewrite, reread, rewrite. If it still doesn't work, throw it away. It's a nice feeling, and you don't want to be cluttered with the corpses of poems and stories which have everything in them except the life they need. (Helen Dunmore)

• Have regrets. They are fuel. On the page they flare into desire. (Geoff Dyer)

• 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)

• Have more humility. Remember you don't know the limits of your own abilities. Successful or not, if you keep pushing beyond yourself, you will enrich your own life -- and maybe even please a few strangers. (A.L. Kennedy)
Read the whole thing. Alas, the counsel does vary somewhat in the quality department. Some ranges from mundane ("Take a pencil to write with on aeroplanes") to bleakly humorous ("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") to completely non sequitur ("Don't have children"). But a great many of the authors return to the same point: If you want to write, you need to write -- steadily, with ruthless commitment and devotion. In the end, that's the only way anything gets done.

(Picture: CC 2006 by
athena.; Hat Tip: Neil Gaiman's Journal)


Davin Malasarn said...

Great post, Loren. I really like Neil Gaiman's post and I hope a lot of people are able to read that. It's so true, and when I give people critique, I'm always scared when they listen to me too closely.

Helen Dunmore's quote is also very pleasing.

Loren Eaton said...

Isn't that a great article? I'm amazed The Guardian managed to wrap such great counsel up into one piece. I forgot to mention it earlier, but there is a second part.