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Anne R. Allen's Blog

...WITH RUTH HARRIS

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Anne writes funny mysteries and how-to-books for writers. She also writes poetry and short stories on occasion. Oh, yes, and she blogs. She's a contributor to Writer's Digest and the Novel and Short Story Writer's Market for 2016. 

Her bestselling Camilla Randall Mystery Series features perennially down-on-her-luck former socialite Camilla Randall—who is a magnet for murder, mayhem and Mr. Wrong, but always solves the mystery in her quirky, but oh-so-polite way.

Anne lives on the Central Coast of California, near San Luis Obispo, the town Oprah called "The Happiest City in America."


Anne blogs at Anne R. Allen's Blog...with Ruth Harris 
and at Anne R. Allen's Books

Sunday, February 21, 2010

TEN TIPS FOR WRITERS

On February 20th, the UK’s Guardian ran the results of a survey of famous authors, requesting their tips for aspiring writers.

The article was inspired by Elmore Leonard’s how-to book for writers, 10 Rules of Writing, which is about to come out in paper in the UK from Weidenfeld & Nicolson. (It doesn’t seem to be available in the US except as a grandly overpriced $50 hardcover or Kindle ebook.)

But the Guardian article is free and has some wonderful advice from an assortment of contemporary literary heavyweights from Joyce Carol Oates to Neil Gaiman.

Some suggestions were common to most of the lists: edit to the bone, always read your stuff aloud, and don’t write for markets.

I was interested to note that most of them also agree with the agents I quoted last month in advising against prologues.

Here’s Elmore Leonard on the subject:

“Avoid prologues: they can be ­annoying, especially a prologue ­following an introduction that comes after a foreword. But these are ordinarily found in non-fiction. A prologue in a novel is backstory, and you can drop it in anywhere you want."

And Hilary Mantel:

“Be aware that anything that appears before "Chapter One" may be skipped. Don't put your vital clue there.”

Here are ten of my favorite tips from the survey:

1) Roddy Doyle
“Do not place a photograph of your ­favourite author on your desk, especially if the author is one of the famous ones who committed suicide.”

2) Richard Ford
“Think of others' good luck as encouragement to yourself.”

3) 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.”

4) Jonathan Franzen
“Interesting verbs are seldom very interesting.”

5) Esther Freud
“Trust your reader. Not everything needs to be explained.”

6) Neil Gaiman
“The main rule of writing is that if you do it with enough assurance and confidence, you're allowed to do whatever you like”.

7) Michael Morpurgo
“It is the gestation time which counts…By the time I sit down and face the blank page I am raring to go. I tell it as if I'm talking to my best friend or one of my grandchildren.”

8) P. D. James
“Read widely and with discrimination. Bad writing is contagious.”

9) Joyce Carol Oates
“Keep in mind Oscar Wilde: "A little sincerity is a dangerous thing, and a great deal of it is absolutely fatal."”

10) David Hare
“Write only when you have something to say.”
*******
But in closing, it’s good to keep in mind Al Kennedy’s tip on taking advice from other authors: Don’t “give older/more ­experienced/more convincing writers…charge of your brain, or anything else – they might be bitter, twisted, burned-out, manipulative, or just not very like you.”

And this from Margaret Atwood: “Nobody is making you do this: you chose it, so don't whine.”

6 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dearest Miss Allen,
Bummer. I was planning on writing a prologue to this comment, but maybe not.

Great post. I particularly like Miss Atwood's suggestions, & when it comes to writing for teens & kids, a heap of writers should take Miss Freud's advice more seriously.

Thanks again for a fine post.
Charlie

February 21, 2010 at 7:25 PM  
Blogger Piedmont Writer said...

Fantastic post as usual. Thanks for this, now I have something substantial to balance my 'crazy' against.

February 22, 2010 at 4:20 AM  
Anonymous Susana Mai said...

Neil Gaiman always says something that inspires me. My favorite advice of his is his article "Where I Get My Ideas From" (it's on his website) he says, essentially, that gets ideas by looking around and asking "what if"--all you need to write is an imagination, a belief in the impossible! That's so inspiring.

Anne Enright's tip is one I should probably listen to....but it's so hard to change your story, even when you know exactly what sections need to be changed! Sometimes I wish the silly thing wrote itself, grrr.

Anyhow, good post.

February 22, 2010 at 10:05 AM  
Blogger christineA said...

This is all wise advice. I even agree with most of it! I especially appreciate Margaret Atwood. I really must stop whining.

February 23, 2010 at 1:43 PM  
Blogger Teebore said...

I love #1, and #5 is something I constantly remind myself.

I also think it's worth pointing out the inverse of #8 is true, as well: good writing is also contagious.

February 25, 2010 at 9:36 AM  
Blogger annerallen said...

Thanks, Teebore. You're right: we would be wise to remember that good writing is contagious, too.

February 25, 2010 at 6:52 PM  

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