10 Rules of Fiction Writing as Culled by The Guardian

Saturday was D.E.A.R day, which you might remember from last year’s story on Charlotte’s, Kate’s, Mattie’s and my favorite books and why we love them. This year, we’re celebrating the day that mandates you drop everything AND READ two days late, but more importantly, by imparting some aggregated wisdom on writing from some of the great thinkers of our generation.

Originally published in 2010 by The Guardian and brought to our attention care of Brain Pickings, here are a few choice tips pulled from the article by various authors on their ten rules for writing fiction.

1. If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it. – Elmore Leonard

2. 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. – Margaret Atwood

3. Do be kind to yourself. Fill pages as quickly as possible; double space, or write on every second line. Regard every new page as a small triumph ­–

4. — Until you get to Page 50. Then calm down, and start worrying about the quality. Do feel anxiety – it’s the job. – Roddy Doyle

5. Don’t worry about posterity – as Larkin (no sentimentalist) observed “What will survive of us is love”. – Helen Dunmore

6. Do it every day. Make a habit of putting your observations into words and gradually this will become instinct. This is the most important rule of all and, naturally, I don’t follow it. – Geoff Dyer

7. Write whatever way you like. Fiction is made of words on a page; reality is made of something else. It doesn’t matter how “real” your story is, or how “made up”: what matters is its necessity. – Anne Enright

8. You see more sitting still than chasing after. – Jonathan Franzen

9. Be your own editor/critic. Sympathetic but merciless! – Joyce Carol Oates

10. Read like mad. But try to do it analytically – which can be hard, because the better and more compelling a novel is, the less conscious you will be of its devices. – Sarah Waters

And, of course, it wouldn’t be a list without our own implementations so here is one rule from me:

If you’re not giggling while you’re writing, you’re either fucking it up or on your way to a Pulitzer.

[Ten Rules for Writing Fiction Part One; Ten Rules for Writing Fiction Part Two via the Guardian]

  • Karen

    Thank you! Great post from a great writer at Man Repeller! I do write every day and often it is very, very hard work. Sometimes, often, it is fun!

  • Last one, from you, is spot on. 🙂

  • hard, but worth it 🙂


  • Al

    I must get better at #6. Thanks for sharing!

  • Charmystique

    As a blogger and aspiring writer, these are very good tips! Most people might be able to write, but truly good writers are hard to come by.


  • i’ve another tip: “I always start writing with a clean piece of paper and a dirty mind” Patrick Dennis