If you’ve visited this little blog on a regular basis, you are aware of our abiding love for Margaret Atwood. So, it was a treat to find her recent post at the Granta blog on rules for fiction writers.
Margaret Atwood’s 10 Rules for Writing Fiction
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. 2 If both pencils break, you can do a rough sharpening job with a nail file of the metal or glass type. 3 Take something to write on. Paper is good. In a pinch, pieces of wood or your arm will do. 4 If you’re using a computer, always safeguard new text with a memory stick. 5 Do back exercises. Pain is distracting. 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. 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. 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. 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. 10 Prayer might work. Or reading something else. Or a constant visualization of the holy grail that is the finished, published version of your resplendent book.