The Guardian’s review section on Saturday had about 30 writers give their Top Ten Tips (or in some cases less) for fiction writers. They were a mixture of the facetiously personal, obvious, pedantic,contradictory and genuinely interesting. I liked David Hare’s comment that the most dreaded words in culture were ‘literary fiction’. Of those that were trying to give practical advice, the same types of theme cropped up: persistence (making yourself sit down and write and not procrastinate was by far the most common); style (most but not all recommended plainness over ostentation); self-belief (take criticism but be selective about what you act on); and being realistic (quite often a solitary life writing is exactly the wrong thing for some people who might have the artistic aptitude).
I particularly liked those that emphasised humility in writing and brutal self-assessment (not everyone can write well enough) which combined with the maxims about writing the sort of book you’d want to read yourself and don’t pretend you can write to order for a market (be true to yourself). If you do that and, take Ian Rankin’s advice to “be lucky and stay lucky” then that might be the best route to success.Â
I’ve now come to a point where I’ve doneÂ quite a fewÂ creative writing courses, read a lot of books on the subject and workshopped a fair amount of fiction and poetry and I start to see some of the more pat advice that comes up in these type of top ten lists being misapplied. Doing a creative writing course might not get someone published but it will certainly equip a keen student with a checklist of well-intentioned rules that many tutors and studentsÂ quite ruthlessly apply but seem to be broken by many of the greatest writers in history. Maybe more of this in the next post.