Thursday, April 19, 2012

Advice for Writers: From the Guardian Series on Rules for Writing (Fiction)

These are from Margaret Atwood. I am so crazy about her work and her personality as I understand it, that, were I not married, I would run away with her if she asked me. The likelihood of that is, admittedly, very low. DV

Enough distractions. Here are Marvelous Margaret's Rules for Writing:

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. Who else uses the word "aeroplane" these days? Reason enough to be crazy about this lady.

2 If both pencils break, you can do a rough sharpening job with a nail file of the metal or glass type. I'll have to start carrying a file. And pencils.

3 Take something to write on. Paper is good. In a pinch, pieces of wood or your arm will do. Uh...I dunno about writing on my arm with a pencil. Ouch. I can get a lot on a 3" x 5" card.

4 If you're using a computer, always safeguard new text with a ­memory stick. I had a hard disk fail last year. Fortunately I had most everything backed up on the cloud. A memory stick or two is just prudent.

5 Do back exercises. Pain is distracting. I have a series of yoga exercises I do for my back twice a day. Also a nice period of meditation at the same time. Ommmmm...

6 Hold the reader's attention. (This is likely to work better if you can hold your own.) But you don't know who the reader is, so it's like shooting fish with a slingshot in the dark. What ­fascinates A will bore the pants off B. Yeah, sometimes I write something that bores me stiff. That's what the "delete" key is for.

7 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. There's no whining in writing. There is crying, however.

8 You can never read your own book with the innocent anticipation that comes with that first delicious page of a new book, because you wrote the thing. You've been backstage. You've seen how the rabbits were smuggled into the hat. Therefore ask a reading friend or two to look at it before you give it to anyone in the publishing business. This friend should not be someone with whom you have a ­romantic relationship, unless you want to break up. Yep, you know where all the bodies are buried. So your mystery is not a mystery to you.

9 Don't sit down in the middle of the woods. If you're lost in the plot or blocked, retrace your steps to where you went wrong. Then take the other road. And/or change the person. Change the tense. Change the opening page. Always possible to change everything. Throw it all out and start over again. It's your choice.

10 Prayer might work. Or reading ­something else. Or a constant visual­isation of the holy grail that is the finished, published version of your resplendent book. I keep thinking of the Grail Light in "Monty Python and the Holy Grail." Whatever works for you. I visualize Meryl Streep as the female lead in the film version of my novel.

1 comment:

  1. Atwood is one of my favorite authors of all time! Have you read Alias Grace? Amazing voice change compared to books like Handmaids Tale. And an amazing switch in historic perspective. Instead of futuristic dystopia, she gets to the heart of a possible crime set in a long past era. Love it!

    I have to admit I don't care for her The Year of the Flood series--way too dark, even for me. I just don't need to read that much about rape of women and kids in such detail. Anyway, Atwood's imagery and technical talents--"'s like shooting fish with a slingshot in the dark." Come on. How awesome is that??

    As for writing a novel--I hate writing novels. I mean, I wanted to write a novel, and I did, and I have another in progress, but I hate it. I get sick of my characters, no matter how interesting other people find them. This new novel is a bit easier because I'm having fun with real crazies and I jump around from the street, to the past, to a mental hospital, to a grocery store, to a jail...yeah. Needs research and way more effort, though.