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The Creative Issue – News for Creatives | July 12, 2020

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Rules for writing fiction from the fame before us

Rules for writing fiction from the fame before us

| On 16, Aug 2013

In one of my many moments spent browsing the wonderful world of the Internet, I came across this quote by Ernest Hemingway, “Easy writing makes hard reading.”

If you call yourself a writer, you should understand and share my love and admiration for dear old Ernest and therefore understand why reading this quote led me on an expedition to find all the insightful and mesmerising quotes from his lifetime.

While doing so, I found quotes from other authors; most of whom I had never heard of but now wish I knew their work. Reading through the quotes made me feel like it was essential to remember what these people had to say.

I also found myself agreeing with every word and even giggling every now and again.

The giggling factor is what made me decide to share these with you all. Read on to see why you’ve always wanted to be a writer. After all – who wouldn’t want to be one of these sarcastically humorous, cynical yet colourful individuals?

Writer Neil Gaiman, circa 2007. Image: Dan Morelle.

Writer Neil Gaiman, circa 2007. Image: Dan Morelle.

“Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue. The line of dialogue belongs to the character; the verb is the writer sticking his nose in. But “said” is far less intrusive than “grumbled”, “gasped”, “cautioned”, “lied”. I once noticed Mary McCarthy ending a line of dialogue with “she asseverated” and had to stop reading and go to the dictionary.” – Elmore Leonard

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

“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

“Do not search for the book you haven’t written yet.” – Roddy Doyle

“If it sounds like writing, rewrite it.” – Elmore Leonard

 “Finish the day’s writing when you still want to continue.” – Helen Dunmore

“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

“If you use a computer, constantly refine and expand your autocorrect settings. The only reason I stay loyal to my piece-of-shit computer is that I have invested so much ingenuity into building one of the great auto­correct files in literary history. Perfectly formed and spelt words emerge from a few brief keystrokes: ‘Niet’ becomes ‘Nietzsche’, ‘phoy’ becomes  ­”photography” and so on. ­Genius!” – Geoff Dyer

“Only bad writers think that their work is really good.” – Anne Enright

“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

“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

“My main rule is to say no to things [answering questions] like this, which tempt me away from my proper work.” – Philip Pullman

“Talent trumps all. If you’re a ­really great writer, none of these rules need apply. If James Baldwin had felt the need to whip up the pace a bit, he could never have achieved the extended lyrical intensity of Giovanni’s Room. Without “overwritten” prose, we would have none of the linguistic exuberance of a Dickens or an Angela Carter. If everyone was economical with their characters, there would be no Wolf Hall . . . For the rest of us, however, rules remain important. And, ­crucially, only by understanding what they’re for and how they work can you begin to experiment with breaking them.” – Sarah Waters

And my personal favourite; “Write.” – Neil Gaiman.