Thursday, February 25, 2010

Mararet Atwood

So all around the blogosphere, (the lit-blogosphere that is,) those ten rules for writing fiction from The Guardian are buzzing and droning on. I like Margaret Atwood's. If you want to read the whole list of authors, go here.

Margaret Atwood

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 visual­isation of the holy grail that is the finished, published version of your resplendent book.


Tuesday, February 23, 2010

the novel is about other people

"I don't know why so many writers, unpublished and published, should find this so hard to grasp: the novel is about other people. A first novel must always be about other people. The function of the novel isn't self-expression: it isn't to sort out your life, it isn't to change society. Above all, it isn't about you. You must use your own experience, direct and indirect, but only as the purposes of the story dictate. You must realize that you yourself don't matter. Only the work matters. You have to get rid of yourself, or at least try to."

-John Braine, How to Write a Novel.

Mr. Braine wrote Room at the Top, The Crying Game, and eleven other novels.


Tuesday, February 02, 2010


"No animal should ever jump up on the dining-room furniture unless absolutely certain that he can hold his own in the conversation."

-Fran Lebowitz, Social Studies (1977)