Writers 10 Rules And Why I Hate Them So


There's a big old pompous article in the Guardian Books Section entitled 10 RULES FOR WRITING inspired by Elmore Leonard's Ten Rules (yeah, Elmore Leonard, that great literary giant) that's tipped me into a twisted rage this week. The Guard have asked some crusty and seemingly bitter authors to impart their withering wisdom and the result is stomach turning. Philip Pullman declined. The Guard being what it is published his decline, it reads thus: "My main rule is to say no to things like this, which tempt me away from my proper work."

Ta for the tip Phil, you fountain of generosity. That reminds me mate; how'd that cinema adaptation of His Dark Materials work out for you? Here's one of my rules: don't be a one trick pony. Scribble that one down you self regarding berk.

As you might have guessed this pushes all sorts of buttons inside of me. Red buttons. Big red buttons with nuclear insignias all over them. I wouldn't mind if the rules from these writers were drizzled with a touch of humility and self effacing humor. But they aren't. Most are smeared with contempt for me and you, the lowly student. Here's an example from Will Self:

"4. Stop reading fiction - it's all lies anyway, and it doesn't have anything to tell you that you don't know already (assuming, that is, you've read a great deal of fiction in the past; if you haven't you have no business whatsoever being a writer of fiction)."

Thanks Willy, here's a rule of mine: a man who appears on comedy panel shows and has a face like someone's just thrown a bucket of freshly squeezed lemon juice at it and uses massive words like "flocciinauciniihilipilification" to make them seem intelligent, has no business telling me what to do. Ever.

Then some authors rules are, well, non nonsensical and rely, I kid you not, on magic. Here's Ian Rankin's last two rules:

"9 Get lucky.
10 Stay lucky."

Practical advice. So, Ian, your rules to writing fiction is to somehow find a four leaf clover or better yet a rabbit's foot or better yet a Leprechaun munching on a four leaf clover while sawing off a rabbit's foot and take this mythical creature home with me and stuff it under my laptop? Top tip there from the level headed scot.

Then there are suggestions that would need Doc Brown's DeLorean on standby. One of Zadie Smith's rules is: "When still a child, make sure you read a lot of books. Spend more time doing this than anything else." What!? Christ mighty I'm a thirty year old man! How in god's name is this helpful? Unless, I suppose, it's directed at Booker Mom's and Dad's (like Tennis Mom's and Dad's) who want their offspring to grow up be top notch Whitbread winners one day. Even if I, concerned parent, followed this rule, what is Ms Smith suggesting? That I chain up little Harry in the basement with the works of Tolstoy and never let him see the light of day until he's memorized War and Peace?

But its Colm Toibin's 10 rules that get me punching the keyboard with unrestrained hate. Here they are in their full horridness:

1 Finish everything you start.
2 Get on with it.
3 Stay in your mental pyjamas all day.
4 Stop feeling sorry for yourself.
5 No alcohol, sex or drugs while you are working.
6 Work in the morning, a short break for lunch, work in the afternoon and then watch the six o'clock news and then go back to work until bed-time. Before bed, listen to Schubert, preferably some songs.
7 If you have to read, to cheer yourself up read biographies of writers who went insane.
8 On Saturdays, you can watch an old Bergman film, preferably Persona or Autumn Sonata.
9 No going to London.
10 No going anywhere else either.

Finished vomiting yet? I haven't. The above set of rules makes me imagine murder. It makes me imagine leaving my house in Yealand Redmayne, hailing a cab, going to Carnforth station, getting a train to Manchester airport, catching the red eye to Dublin, hailing another cab to the University Collage Dublin, sleeping on the steps of the main building, waking up at 10am, waiting another hour until Colm lumbers up the stairs and punching him in his mush with one of his own tomes (which I would have bought at the airport book store). It would be a mission granted, but it would be worth it.

Colm's rules are so draped in arrogance and lies that I want to scream. Number 2 and 4 are particularly galling. "Stop Feeling Sorry For Yourself". How presumptuous and thoughtless, how devoid of empathy and sympathy. Oh and 8's so pretentious I just threw up again, all over my copy of The Heather Blazing.

Now I know what you're going to say - "But Dom, their just being facetious, having a laugh, they don't mean it." That's even worse. These people have been given a chance to impart some practical advice and all they've done is turn in some lame self congregating stand up routine. For shame.

Of course some of the authors try a bit and there are some nuggets of good advice. The one a like is from Jeanette Winterson: "Take no notice of anyone you don't respect."
And from the evidence set out here, I'm gonna get to my laptop and ignore all the writers who have taken part in the ten rules for writing fiction article. Forever.


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