“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:
- Finish the day’s writing when you still want to continue.
- 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.
- Read Keats’s letters.
- 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.
- Learn poems by heart.
- Join professional organisations which advance the collective rights of authors.
- A problem with a piece of writing often clarifies itself if you go for a long walk.
- If you fear that taking care of your children and household will damage your writing, think of JG Ballard.
- 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