In 2010, inspired by Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing, The Guardian asked authors for their personal lists of dos and don’ts. We’ve gone through the whole list and, week by week, will be bringing you the timeless counsel of the great writers of the 20th and 21stcenturies.
You’ve already had some practical advice from Margaret Atwood, who advised us that writers “most likely need a thesaurus, a rudimentary grammar book, and a grip on reality.” Meanwhile, Zadie Smith gave us timeless writing rules, reminding us to “Avoid cliques, gangs, groups: the presence of a crowd won’t make your writing any better than it is.” And of course, who could forget Neil Gaiman’s deceptively-simple sounding tips, including: “Put one word after another. Find the right word, put it down.”
Now, it’s our turn to treat you to this fabulous set of writing rules from Jonathan Franzen. Enjoy!
- The reader is a friend, not an adversary, not a spectator.
- Fiction that isn’t an author’s personal adventure into the frightening or the unknown isn’t worth writing for anything but money.
- Never use the word “then” as a conjunction – we have “and” for this purpose. Substituting “then” is the lazy or tone-deaf writer’s non-solution to the problem of too many “ands” on the page.
- Write in the third person unless a really distinctive first-person voice offers itself irresistibly.
- When information becomes free and universally accessible, voluminous research for a novel is devalued along with it.
- The most purely autobiographical fiction requires pure invention. Nobody ever wrote a more autobiographical story than “The Metamorphosis”.
- You see more sitting still than chasing after.
- It’s doubtful that anyone with an internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction.
- Interesting verbs are seldom very interesting.
- You have to love before you can be relentless.
For more excellent wisdom on writing, consider the writing tips from author and creative writing lecturer Julia Bell; and complement that with some priceless advice from the brilliant poet, Rishi Dastidar, alongside our compendium of writing advice from some of the greatest authors.
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