Sm{art}: Writing Tips from the Experts


Recently, The Guardian asked several successful fiction writers to come up with a top ten list of their personal writing dos and don’ts. Since we’ve all got a secret novelist lurking within us (don’t pretend you haven’t fantasized about going on a book tour) here are some of the more interesting tips from the likes of Margaret Atwood, Zadie Smith, Jeanette Winterson, and more.

From Margaret Atwood, a bit of writerly romantic advice:

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.

From Zadie Smith, a practical approach:

Don’t romanticise your “vocation”. You can either write good sentences or you can’t. There is no “writer’s lifestyle”. All that matters is what you leave on the page.

From Joyce Carol Oates, some advice on keeping it in perspective:

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

From Hilary Mantel, who wants you to keep to yourself:

If you get stuck, get away from your desk. Take a walk, take a bath, go to sleep, make a pie, draw, listen to ­music, meditate, exercise; whatever you do, don’t just stick there scowling at the problem. But don’t make telephone calls or go to a party; if you do, other people’s words will pour in where your lost words should be. Open a gap for them, create a space. Be patient.

From Jeanette Winterson, a feminist tip:

Take no notice of anyone with a ­gender agenda. A lot of men still think that women lack imagination of the fiery kind.

I like the piece because not only does it offer some inspiring tips from some excellent writers, but it also demonstrates how those writers themselves have been influenced by their predecessors and by one another. Our creative efforts don’t exist in a vacuum, and it’s wonderful to see that fact in action.

Which rules from the article did you find the most helpful? Do you have any tips you use when writing or creating art in other media? Share them in the comments section!

by Kelsey Wallace
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Kelsey Wallace is an editor in Portland, Oregon. Follow her on Twitter if you like TV and pictures of dogs.

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2 Comments Have Been Posted


Thanks for posting this, Kelsey! I love this article. Colm Tóibín's advice was my favorite--particularly "If you have to read, to cheer yourself up read biographies of writers who went insane."

And: "9 No going to London. 10 No going anywhere else either." Noted. :)

Now, off to the library to check out some writers' biographies!

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