The Guardian published White Teeth author Zadie Smith’s 10 rules for writing in 2010, and they’re pretty awesome.
- When still a child, make sure you read a lot of books. Spend more time doing this than anything else.
- When an adult, try to read your own work as a stranger would read it, or even better, as an enemy would.
- Don’t romanticise your “vocation”. You can either write good sentences or you can’t. There is no “writer’s lifestyle”. All that matters is what you leave on the page.
- Avoid your weaknesses. But do this without telling yourself that the things you can’t do aren’t worth doing. Don’t mask self-doubt with contempt.
- Leave a decent space of time between writing something and editing it.
- Avoid cliques, gangs, groups. The presence of a crowd won’t make your writing any better than it is.
- Work on a computer that is disconnected from the internet.
- Protect the time and space in which you write. Keep everybody away from it, even the people who are most important to you.
- Don’t confuse honours with achievement.
- Tell the truth through whichever veil comes to hand – but tell it. Resign yourself to the lifelong sadness that comes from never being satisfied.
* This is a repost from 2012 when I was reading Evelyn Waugh’s A Handful of Dust. As I’m now finishing up Brideshead Revisited, I thought it was still relevant. Great insight here from Waugh.
One of the best writing tips I’ve heard for novelists goes something like this: “Know the ending before you start.”
I love that. It just makes sense. That’s not to say there isn’t other ways to write a novel. I know many authors take the “go where the characters lead” approach. But it just seems much easier to know where you’re going before you start.
With A Handful of Dust, Evelyn Waugh took that approach, which he explained in an interview with The Paris Review in 1962.
While Stannis Baratheon moves forward in his claim to take the Iron Throne at King’s Landing, he makes sure to correct the grammar of illiterates along the way.
Over the course of nearly 5 seasons on Game of Thrones, Stannis has taken the opportunity to clarify the difference between “less” and “fewer” on two occasions. The brief dialogue happens so quick that you might not notice it.
I almost feel like we’re getting a “wink, wink” from the show’s writers here, and I love it.
Here’s the first clip from Season 2. Read more
After a decade or so of doing this writing thing, I’ve decided that writers are a unique lot. We’re kind of weird, wouldn’t you agree?
Recently I noticed some of my own quirks and thought I’d write them down.
But, certainly, these can’t just be truths about me, right? Certainly, you guys who write deal with the same stuff, right? I’m not the only one, am I?
You tell me if you’ve noticed the same things: Read more
According to the New York Times, “a shocking amount of what we’re reading is created not by humans, but by computer algorithms.”
Really? I had no idea.
I understand that spam bots generate a lot of web content that ends up going into filters and never sees the light of day. But I was surprised by the amount of real, quality writing that’s actually generated by computers and their fancy algorithms.
Here’s an example from a quiz on the Times’ site: Read more
If you’ve ever worked with an editor, you know that receiving a colorful track-changes-filled document back isn’t uncommon.
Some editors are straight to the point. Others can be a little too friendly and encouraging when tough love might work better.
In both cases, editors have their own little language with accompanying symbols. So it helps if you can interpret what they’re ACTUALLY saying and read between the lines. Having been brutally edited more times than I’d like to admit, I’m well-versed in editor speak.
So here’s my little guide to interpret what your editor actually means: Read more
Make no mistake—no matter what you think about V.S. Naipaul as a person, the man is an incredible writer.
With that, his advice on writing goes a long way. Here are his 7 tips for beginning writers (via Boing Boing), but I believe these rules are applicable for writers of any experience level. Read more