Useful Rules for “Writing”

Elmore Leonard produced 10 rules for writing (fiction), and the Guardian then asked many other writers for their personal guidelines. You could look it up. It’s a long article, and all of it is worth reading. Here are a few choice excerpts; substitute “photograph” for “write” wherever bracketed (and “study pictures” for “read”), and the entire enterprise translates fairly well.

Geoff Dyer: “Keep a diary. The biggest regret of my writing life is that I have never kept a journal or a diary. Beware of clichés. There are clichés of response as well as expression. There are clichés of observation and of thought – even of conception.”

Anne Enright: “Only bad [writers] think that their work is really good.”

Richard Ford: “Marry somebody you love and who thinks you being a [writer] is a good idea. Don’t have children. Don’t have arguments with your wife in the morning, or late at night. Don’t drink and [write] at the same time. Don’t wish ill on your colleagues. Try to think of others’ good luck as encouragement to yourself. Don’t take any shit if you can ­possibly help it.”

Jonathan Franzen: “You see more sitting still than chasing after.”

David Hare: “Never complain of being misunderstood. You can choose to be understood, or you can choose not to.”

P.D. James: “[Read] widely and with discrimination. Bad [writing] is contagious.”

Michael Morpurgo: “The prerequisite for me is to keep my well of ideas full. This means living as full and varied a life as possible, to have my antennae out all the time.”

Andrew Motion: “Honour the miraculousness of the ordinary. Think big and stay particular.”

Helen Simpson: “The nearest I have to a rule is a Post-it on the wall in front of my desk saying “Faire et se taire” (Flaubert), which I translate for myself as ‘Shut up and get on with it.'”

Zadie Smith: “Protect the time and space in which you [write]. Keep everybody away from it, even the people who are most important to you.”

Colm Tóibín: “Get on with it. Stay in your mental pyjamas all day. Stop feeling sorry for yourself. No alcohol, sex or drugs while you are working.”

Jeanette Winterson: “Turn up for work. Discipline allows creative freedom. No discipline equals no freedom. Be ambitious for the work and not for the reward.”