Top Tips for Writers from Famous Authors

I just discovered, thanks to Melody Godfred’s delightful Write in Color blog, an equally delightful series in The Guardian called Rules for Writers. The series features famous authors like Jonathon Franzen, Margaret Atwood, and Zadie Smith, who offer their shirt, pithy tips on writing.

Their advice reflect a certain practicality and sense of humour that must only come after “making it” in the big time. Some of my favourites:

Margaret Atwood:

You most likely need a thesaurus, a rudimentary grammar book, and a grip on reality. This latter means: there’s no free lunch. Writing is work. It’s also gambling. You don’t get a pension plan. Other people can help you a bit, but ¬≠essentially you’re on your own. ¬≠Nobody is making you do this: you chose it, so don’t whine.

Will Self:

You know that sickening feeling of inadequacy and over-exposure you feel when you look upon your own empurpled prose? Relax into the awareness that this ghastly sensation will never, ever leave you, no matter how successful and publicly lauded you become. It is intrinsic to the real business of writing and should be cherished.

Elmore Leonard:

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.

Roddy Doyle

Do, occasionally, give in to temptation. Wash the kitchen floor, hang out the washing. It’s research.

Read more: Rules for Writers [The Guardian]

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