While Gino catches up on work e-mail, I've been browsing the Saturday papers. One of my favorites, the Guardian, frequently posts advice for writers--including, in September of 2008, a booklet on writing for children introduced by my hero, Michael Rosen.
Today, they've posted a two-part article titled Ten Rules for Writing Fiction ("Inspired by Elmore Leonard's 10 Rules of Writing," which is apparently coming out in book form next month).
I sometimes hesitate to publicize lists like this, because I know how intimidating they can be for the new writer. There's a mountain of advice out there for people who want to write (to which I have contributed), and you have to have tried to follow a lot of it before you get to the point where you know that the only true, #1 Rule of Writing is "do whatever you have to do to get your work done."
The nice thing about the variety of contributors to the Guardian's article is that it gives the reader a chance to see for herself the variety of approaches, and how what works for one writer might not work for another. So while Richard Ford says, "Don't have children," Helen Dunmore says, "If you fear that taking care of your children and household will damage your writing, think of J.G. Ballard." (I didn't know what she meant by that until I looked it up, but I often give myself the same advice using Ursula K. LeGuin, Madeleine L'Engle, or Judy Blume.)
The article also offers a good amount of satisfaction, for this particular writer, anyway. I am at the point where I know to ignore advice that doesn't work for me, but I can still take a good bit of pleasure out of seeing that a Famous Writer has some of the same habits I do: so Hilary Mantel says, "If you get stuck, get away from your desk. Take a walk, take a bath, go to sleep, make a pie, draw, listen to music, meditate, exercise; whatever you do, don't just stick there scowling at the problem," and I think "woo-hoo! I'm on the same page as Hilary Mantel! Success is right around the corner!"
Best of all: sometimes, reading articles such as this one, you get a piece of advice you hadn't thought of before. My "aha" moment this time around came from Anne Enright:
Imagine that you are dying. If you had a terminal disease would you finish this book? Why not? The thing that annoys this 10-weeks-to-live self is the thing that is wrong with the book. So change it. Stop arguing with yourself. Change it. See? Easy. And no one had to die.
Which reminds me of the other absolutely true, #1 Rule of Writing: You will never, ever get to a place where you know everything, so keep paying attention to what you can learn.