Saturday, February 20, 2010

Rules for Writing: Do You Follow Them? Do You Care?

Thanks to blogger friend, Frank Wilson, I came upon this post of Elmore Leonard's and other writers' 10 rules for writing. I always find successful writers' advice at once fun and annoying. Fun like reading those "Do's and Don'ts" fashion tips in magazines. Annoying because, like fashion, one size does not fit all and the advice is often contradictory. Take Leonard's rule #8,

"Avoid detailed descriptions of characters."
That's one with which I agree whole heartedly, mainly because I like to form my own images of characters. If my vision of a "perfect 10"is brunette, describing him as blond will ruin it for me. Consequently, I provide ultra-lite descriptions of my characters, if any at all. And, guess what? I don't think I've ever participated in a workshop where someone didn't criticize me for that and tell me they wanted more character description.

Then there's Hillary Mantel's advice repeated from Dorothea Brande about writing in the morning. Now I happen to be a morning person, so I'll buy that, but further down Andrew Motions rule #1 is,

"Decide when in the day (or night) it best suits you to write, and organise your life accordingly."
Will Self Says,

"Don't look back until you've written an entire draft, just begin each day from the last sentence you wrote the preceeding day. ..."
But wait, didn't Ernest Hemingway start each day by re-reading what he had written the day before and revising as he went along? If one starts only from the last sentence doesn't one risk losing the continuity of voice?

Successful writers are always being asked for advice and rules. Most end up complying and telling other writers to do what they do. With a few exceptions, such as Philip Pullman who replied to the request,

"My main rule is to say no to things like this, which tempt me away from my proper work."
To that I would say,perhaps the same should be said for reading it.

How about you? Do you read other writers' rules for success? Do you seek out books on writing?

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