Monday, February 22, 2010

Successful Writers' Rules for Writing

On Saturday, the Guardian newspaper ran the second of a fascinating two-part article entitled Ten Rules for Writing Fiction. Many of the rules contradicted each other - some writers exhorted the importance of writing every day, some said not so much. Some said 'read everything you can', others disagreed. There seemed to be some common threads which were:

1. Don't be afraid of being ruthless with your editing and your cutting.

2. Write the book you would want to read, no matter the genre.

3. Don't chase trends. By the time you're finished, the trend will have vanished.

4. Be persistent.

5. Believe in yourself and your writing - but always know there is room for improvement.

6. Take it seriously.

I found myself nodding in agreement with most of the article, although I disagreed with several 'rules'. One rule gave me an 'aha' moment. Several 'rules' made me giggle.

Four of my favourites:

From Neil Gaiman:


Put one word after another. Find the right word, put it down.

From Ian Rankin:

Be lucky.

Stay lucky.


  1. I love these! I also thought it was interesting that so much of the advice differed. I guess it's just whatever works for you.

    Be lucky and stay lucky are 2 big parts of the equation, I think!


  2. HA! I love these!

    It reminds me of being in critique groups...I think they are invaluable when writing but can be frustrating when there are contradictions. Quite often one person will want me to change something and another will want me to leave it the end you must choose what you really think is best!

    How's your latest project been going? I've been out of the loop lately!!! Have you finished your latest mystery game???

  3. I read this article and then put the link on my sidebar. I love to hear about how others write. I guess this is why we're following each other's writing blogs after all!!

  4. Oh, Elspeth, I just noticed I'm one of your top commenters!! Do I get a prize lol?

  5. EIizabeth; Now someone just have to give a workshop on being lucky!

    Kristi; Thank you for asking about my game - I'm nearing the finish line, which is good considering my deadline is next week.

    KarenG; I find it fascinating how others approach writing. Glad you like it too!

  6. THank you for posting the link. I went there and these made me laugh:

    Richard Ford

    1 Marry somebody you love and who thinks you being a writer's a good idea.

    2 Don't have children.

    3 Don't read your reviews.

    4 Don't write reviews. (Your judgment's always tainted.)

    5 Don't have arguments with your wife in the morning, or late at night.

    6 Don't drink and write at the same time.

    7 Don't write letters to the editor. (No one cares.)

    8 Don't wish ill on your colleagues.

    9 Try to think of others' good luck as encouragement to yourself.

    10 Don't take any shit if you can ­possibly help it.


  7. Ann Elle; Aren't they great? I especially like the 'don't drink and write at the same time'. Wise, wise words.

  8. Those are great lists Elspeth - loved the humourous ones. You're an awesome info detective :)

  9. These are great! I agree about the ruthless editing- I've been told that's what actually makes you a writer.

    I liked the funny ones too, especially not having kids. :)

  10. Deb; What a nice thing to say - how I wish it were true! I'm glad you liked the lists.

    Stephanie; I think that's absolutely right - the ability to look at your own work objectively is a sign of being a real writer.

  11. These are great - I'm going over to get some inspiration - let's hear your top ten Elspeth! Comeonalready! My dad's was like Neil Gaiman (who I love!) - apply your bottom to the chair seat - go!

  12. Loved the rules. Seems like everyone has an opinion. LOL. The rule not to drink while you write cracked me up. I was once writing scripts with a young man who thought perhaps a glass of wine would help loosen the creative juices. We did most of our writing together in the evening as he had a day job and I did to, taking care of a house full of kids and doing freelance writing.
    Anyway, the night we decided to try the experiment, we both fell asleep. I was at my desk inputing on the computer and he sat on a small couch that was in my office. My husband came in to see how we were doing with the script and had to wake us up.

  13. Jan; I might consider doing one - anything for a post! Isn't Neil Gaiman wonderful?

    Maryann; What a funny story! On the other hand, I knew a playwright who did his best writing whilst under the influence.

  14. LOVE this list! And I like what Ann wrote above about marrying someone who supports your writing. That does make a HUGE difference.

  15. #2 is a mantra for me.

    The trend thing is something I always get stuck in. I like to use pop culture references, and I rarely think about how the reference will be (especialyl if it's a trendy thing) received ten years later. Must work on that.

  16. These are great. Thanks for finding them and posting. Love the lucky duo and the don't drink and write at the same time.

  17. Awesome!! I especially love the "stay lucky" one - I wish :)

  18. Thanks for passing along those great words of advise, Elspeth!

  19. Stephanie; A supportive partner is always important - but it helps if you knew that you were a writer before the relationship started!

    Elisa; It's mine too.

    Carol; I say there's nothing wrong with a wee bit of wine. Or the delete button after.

    Patricia; Well, yeah!

    Jemi; Isn't it great? I'd like to know how to follow that one!

    Alan; You're so welcome. I still don't want to talk about that hockey game.

  20. Thanks for these, Elspeth! Interesting, to say the least. I love reading quotes and "rules" from other writers, especially when, as you said, they contradict each other. Just goes to show...something.

    A couple years ago I was asked to give a couple of "writing rules" for a writers' devotional. Ya wanna know what I sent them? No? Too bad. My best (and least helpful) one was: "Always include a large woodshed somewhere in your story. It's a good place to stack the bodies when your characters start getting in the way of the story."

  21. Jack; I like that very much. I'm fond of dark basements populated by hungry rats - I let the rats and the characters fight it out.


Please leave a comment as I love to hear from you!