A few years ago, American novelist Colson Whitehead published a piece outlining his simple rules for writing (New York Times July 26, 2012). While I don’t completely agree with him, I do have my own ideas on the thorny subject of what writers should and shouldn’t do:
1: Show and Tell.
No, actually. While I can see the point of encouraging young writers to brag about their projects, the point of the phrase Show, Don’t Tell (to show what is happening rather than merely recounting events like some simple-minded horse), is always worth reiterating.
2: Don’t go searching for a subject, let your subject find you.
Well, this’d be fine if you’re the sort of person who does actually receive inspiration on a daily basis, but the question most asked by novice writers (Where do you get your ideas from?) is just another way of saying What should I write about? So what I say is do search for something to write about, otherwise that best-selling novel might never get started.
3: Write what you know.
This is a great rule if you happen to have had a particularly interesting/exciting/
adventurous life, but if you’ve worked in an insurance office for 15 years, it’s a bit limiting. Clearly, you don’t have to commit murder to write about a serial killer and you needn’t have survived a nuclear holocaust to create a post-apocalyptic dystopian fantasy. Writing is about using your imagination.
4: Never use three words when one will do.
Okay, that’s a good one – too many writers blabber on inanely as if using more words will somehow impart greater meaning to their work. Less is more, as some famous person probably once said.
5: Keep a dream diary.
The only time I tried this, an idea that started as a dream turned into an unmanageable mess. Of course, if you ‘re lucky enough to have amazing dreams, maybe it’ll work out.
6: What isn’t said is as important as what is said.
Yup, that’s a good one.
7: Writer’s block is a tool — use it.
In this case, I defer to Terry Pratchett, who said: ‘There’s no such thing as writer’s block. That was invented by people in California who couldn’t write.’ Nuff said.
8: Is secret.
I totally agree with this one, but as it’s a secret, I can’t tell you why.
9: Have adventures.
In this case, revert to Rule 3 – use your imagination. We aren’t all Ernie Hemingways, and while it’s good to write from experience, you don’t have to.
10: Revise, revise, revise.
Absolutely. Revise, re-write, edit etc. Do everything you can to make your work as good as it can possibly be.
11: There are no rules.
Er… Okay, do whatever you like. It’ll be fine…