Brain Pickings

What Will Survive of Us Is Love: Helen Dunmore’s 9 Rules of Writing

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“A problem with a piece of writing often clarifies itself if you go for a long walk.”

Nearly two years ago, inspired by Elmore Leonard’s 10 rules of writing published in The New York Times a decade earlier, The Guardian invited some of today’s most celebrated authors to share their personal writing rules. After 10 commandments from Zadie Smith, another 10 from Margaret Atwood, and 8 from Neil Gaiman, here is a wonderful list from British novelist, poet, and children’s author Helen Dunmore:

  1. Finish the day’s writing when you still want to continue.
  2. Listen to what you have written. A dud rhythm in a passage of dialogue may show that you don’t yet understand the characters well enough to write in their voices.
  3. Read Keats’s letters.
  4. 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.
  5. Learn poems by heart.
  6. Join professional organisations which advance the collective rights of authors.
  7. A problem with a piece of writing often clarifies itself if you go for a long walk.
  8. If you fear that taking care of your children and household will damage your writing, think of JG Ballard.
  9. Don’t worry about posterity — as Larkin (no sentimentalist) observed ‘What will survive of us is love’.

For more timeless wisdom on writing, dive into Kurt Vonnegut’s 8 rules for a great story, Joy Williams on why writers write, David Ogilvy’s 10 no-bullshit tips, Henry Miller’s 11 commandments, Jack Kerouac’s 30 beliefs and techniques, John Steinbeck’s 6 pointers, and Susan Sontag’s synthesized learnings.

Image via The Guardian

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