Sunday, February 21, 2010

Ten Simple Rules

W. Somerset Maugham said there are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.

That's one of my all-time favourite quotes, but it turns out Maugham may be worse at maths than I am, because The Guardian have asked lots of fiction writers for their
10 Rules for Writing Fiction and they've assembled rather a lot of them.

Contributors include Neil Gaiman, Roddy Doyle and Margaret Atwood, among many others, and some of the rules are pretty funny so it's worth reading.

Here are a few of my favourites. I especially love Geoff Dyer's advice about Nabokov.

Margaret Atwood

1 Take a pencil to write with on aeroplanes. Pens leak. But if the pencil breaks, you can't sharpen it on the plane, because you can't take knives with you. Therefore: take two pencils.

2 If both pencils break, you can do a rough sharpening job with a nail file of the metal or glass type.

3 Take something to write on. Paper is good. In a pinch, pieces of wood or your arm will do.

Roddy Doyle

Do not place a photograph of your ­favourite author on your desk, especially if the author is one of the famous ones who committed suicide.

Do not search for the book you haven't written yet.

Do spend a few minutes a day working on the cover biog – "He divides his time between Kabul and Tierra del Fuego." But then get back to work.

Geoff Dyer

Don't be one of those writers who sentence themselves to a lifetime of sucking up to Nabokov.

Keep a diary. The biggest regret of my writing life is that I have never kept a journal or a diary.

Have regrets. They are fuel. On the page they flare into desire.

Richard Ford

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

Anne Enright

The first 12 years are the worst.

The way to write a book is to actually write a book. A pen is useful, typing is also good. Keep putting words on the page.


  1. Hi

    I was so happy with my Guardian yesterday for having this article!

    A great read everyone - my favourite is Richard Ford's one..!


    Take care

  2. Thanks for the link, I added it to my blog sidebar. And I believe I broke a few of Elmore Leonard's 10 rules in my novel. Ouch!

  3. Getting ready to read the link, but loved the quotes already... two pencils So funny. I use the kind of pencils that feel like pens and have click leads in them. Love them.

    Great post!

  4. I've broken loads of the rules too, especially Elmore Leonard's. He's strict! :)

    My two favourites are Margaret Atwood's two pencils and Geoff Dyer about Nabokov.

  5. I love Richard Ford's one. But its all gravy, keep up the excellent posts Ellen.


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