10 Rules on writing fiction collected from famous contemporary authors

Six years ago, Guardian magazine asked some of the  most influential contemporary authors to share their tips on writing. I found the collected wisdom precious and very helpful. Every time I feel a creative block when I’m writing, I go back and reread them.

Enjoy my own 10 tips selection!

#1

Don't go into great detail describing places and things, unless you're ­Margaret Atwood and can paint scenes with language. You don't want descriptions that bring the action, the flow of the story, to a standstill.

- Elmore Leonard 

#2

Don't sit down in the middle of the woods. If you're lost in the plot or blocked, retrace your steps to where you went wrong. Then take the other road. And/or change the person. Change the tense. Change the opening page. 

Margaret Atwood

#3

Do change your mind. Good ideas are often murdered by better ones. I was working on a novel about a band called the Partitions. Then I decided to call them the Commitments.

Roddy Doyle 

#4

Write whatever way you like. Fiction is made of words on a page; reality is made of something else. It doesn't matter how "real" your story is, or how "made up": what matters is its necessity.

Anne Enright

#5

Write in the third person unless a ­really distinctive first-person voice ­offers itself irresistibly.

Jonathan Franzen

#6

A story needs rhythm. Read it aloud to yourself. If it doesn't spin a bit of magic, it's missing something.

Esther Freud

#7

The main rule of writing is that if you do it with enough assurance and confidence, you're allowed to do whatever you like. (That may be a rule for life as well as for writing. But it's definitely true for writing.) So write your story as it needs to be written. Write it ­honestly, and tell it as best you can. I'm not sure that there are any other rules. Not ones that matter.

Neil Gaiman

#8

Jokes are like hands and feet for a painter. They may not be what you want to end up doing but you have to master them in the meanwhile.

David Hare

#9

Open your mind to new experiences, particularly to the study of other ­people. Nothing that happens to a writer – however happy, however tragic – is ever wasted. 

PD James

#10

Remember you love writing. It wouldn't be worth it if you didn't. If the love fades, do what you need to and get it back.

AL Kennedy

And no matter where you write, how you write, or what you write, just keep writing.

 

Enjoy writing,

Victoria's Journals

Why I’m always having a notebook?

20 years later, I still keep my first journal. My father gave it to me when I was 11 years old, just before our family car trip across Asia.

My diary

I first started recoding in it all the new landscapes, people and psychologies we encountered on the road. I also used my notebook in a therapeutical way - as my silent friend who listen to all my internal, often confusing and highly emotional thoughts without judging me.

Since then, in my life I had hundreds of different notebooks and journals serving equally varied purposes.

During my studies paper and pen were the best tools for me to remember any information. I was one of those students that couldn't remember anything without writing it down. I had written probably thousands of “cahier d’exercises” filled with words in five different languages.

I also use journals to record bits of inspiration coming from others - lyrics of a song that made me feel something, or a joke I watched on TV, or a dialogue I heard while traveling in the bus, or just ideas that pop up in my mind and I catch them by writing them down.

My notebooks are my catchers in the ray of inspiration and they stay on the shelves of my library next to other great books. When I have creative blocks, I grab one and read it.

Now, I must admit that all the projects, presentations, and ideas that I’ve turned sooner or later into reality started in the pages of my notebooks. It is the best way to channel my conscious and sometimes unconscious thinking.

Your thoughts are the blueprint of the life you are building one day at a time. When you learn to channel your thinking — both consciously and subconsciously — you create the conditions that make the achievement of your goals inevitable."

Benjamin Hardy (https://medium.com/@benjaminhardy)

 

Enjoy writing,

Victoria's Journals

Edited wisdom from talented writer Kurt Vonnegut

5 advices Kurv Vonnegut

I’ve heard that a writer is lucky because he cures himself every day with his work. What everybody is well advised to do is to not write about your own life — this is, if you want to write fast. You will be writing about your own life anyway — but you won’t know it.

– November 1970, interview at New York University (the full 50-minute recording is available at https://soundcloud.com/search?q=Kurt%20Vonnegut)

Introduced by Ronald Gross in this wonderful interview in front of students from the New York University, Kurt Vonnegut is depicted as "semi science fiction writer" with “cosmic playful imagination” combined with “real insights into the hole range of human behavior” and “style”.

Kurt Vonnegut was also a teacher and a guest speaker. In many occasions he shared his wisdom on writing and style. Follows VJ’s very brief selection:

No one ought to work more than four hours.

I get up at 7:30 and work four hours a day. Nine to twelve in the morning, five to six in the evening. Businessmen would achieve better results if they studied human metabolism. No one works well eight hours a day. No one ought to work more than four hours.”

—Boston Globe Magazine, July 20, 1969. (via)

Find a subject you care about.

Find a subject you care about and which you in your heart feel others should care about. It is this genuine caring, and not your games with language, which will be the most compelling and seductive element in your style.

— from an essay published in the book “How to use the power of the printed word”

Make you character want something right away.

When I used to teach creative writing, I would tell the students to make their characters want something right away—even if it’s only a glass of water. Characters paralyzed by the meaningless of modern life still have to drink water from time to time.

— from an interview in Paris Review, spring 1977

Write to please just one person.

If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.

— from the book “Bagombo Snuff Box”

You have to be real expert on ends.

Nothing ever really ends. That’s the horrible part of being in the short-story business—you have to be a real expert on ends. Nothing in real life ends. ‘Millicent at last understands.’ Nobody ever understands.

— Interview in The New York Times, October 6, 1970

 

And so it goes, so it goes.

 

Enjoy writing,

Victoria's Journals