Ten rules for writing fiction

… I love to read, but what I really need just now, in the middle of life, is to become a better writer

A visit to 101 Books made me aware of this great list of RULES for writing fiction. Heres Anne Enright’s contribution:

1 The first 12 years are the worst.

2 The way to write a book is to actually write a book. A pen is useful, typing is also good. Keep putting words on the page.

3 Only bad writers think that their work is really good.

4 Description is hard. Remember that all description is an opinion about the world. Find a place to stand.

5 Write whatever way you like. Fiction is made of words on a page; reality is made of something else. It doesn’t matter how “real” your story is, or how “made up”: what matters is its necessity.

6 Try to be accurate about stuff.

7 Imagine that you are dying. If you had a terminal disease would you ­finish this book? Why not? The thing that annoys this 10-weeks-to-live self is the thing that is wrong with the book. So change it. Stop arguing with yourself. Change it. See? Easy. And no one had to die.

8 You can also do all that with whiskey.

9 Have fun.

10 Remember, if you sit at your desk for 15 or 20 years, every day, not ­counting weekends, it changes you. It just does. It may not improve your temper, but it fixes something else. It makes you more free.

I love rule no. 1 – about the first 12 years! Marvelous! I also like her choice of the concept necessity instead of truth in no. 5. Talking about truth is very difficult, but I think that both writer and reader can feel it with body & brain when a text is founded on necessity.

I must admit never to have read any of Anne Enright’s books – have you?

18 Comments Add yours

  1. Sigrun, thank you. She should write more rules…Not just for writing. Then I wouldn’t mind rules as much 🙂 I love # 4. Wonderful way to–well–describe description.

    1. Sigrun says:

      At the moment I’m reading a book written by a woman with Downs syndrome, it reminds me that there are so many different points of views, so many perspectives on the world, so many places to stand. It is important to be aware of ones own!

  2. Anne Camille says:

    Good rules. #1 and #8 made me laugh. The rest are good ones to remember when you’re stumbling with getting the next word on the page.

    I read Enright’s The Gathering a few years ago, a couple years, I think, after it won the Booker prize. I heard the narrator’s voice in my head for a long time afterwards. It’s about a woman trying to make sense of her brother’s suicide, her own life, and their family history. Lots of time switches which makes it difficult in parts, but it was well-worth the effort I thought.

    1. Sigrun says:

      Thank you for sharing you thoughts on Enright! I will look up her work.

  3. The first 12 years, or the first 10,000 hours…yes. Practice pays off, as she indicates in #10. Even if the practice doesn’t culminate in a Booker Prize or the best-seller list, it does indeed change the writer in some crucial way.

    I haven’t read her work, but now I feel interested in seeking it out. I also love your interpretation about necessity as equated with truth.

    1. Sigrun says:

      Just forget about the prizes, its all about getting better than oneself – don’t you think?

      1. My problem is that I can’t always tell if my work’s improving. So I like to keep showing it to others for analysis and feedback.

  4. KM Huber says:

    Haven’t read Ann Enright, either, but like the others, I’ve added her to my list of authors to read. Right now, #7 speaks to me the loudest as I am in the process of reviving or burying a first novel, which is really a bit of both. Perhaps the greater point of her list is that all twelve are necessary in their own place and time.

    These were great, Sigrun.


    1. Sigrun says:

      existentialistic – ?!
      If you are interested; I just found a lot of writing on Enright here:

      1. KM Huber says:

        Indeed you did, and thank you!

  5. All these seem very sensible. (8) translates to ‘beer’ in New Zealand – I believe Hemingway wrote with a whiskey bottle, but the Kiwi writing drink of choice is the brown sud. And (3) speaks volumes to me. The day a writer stops being self critical, sits back on their laurels and thinks they’re good – that’s when they lose it. It applies to all writers, including those who have been writing for a lifetime. Personally I’m constantly pushing to stretch what I do – all the time, quite consciously, and that after nearly 30 years in the business including being published by some of the main houses.

    Some great thoughts, thanks for sharing.

    Matthew Wright

    1. Sigrun says:

      (3) its a kind of battle between belief and disbelief … isn’t it? A friend of mine said: “There is already too many books in the world, so why should I write?!”
      My answer would be that one write because one has to – out of need, lust, pleasure and obligation to some kind of inner motivation. Its existential, its about life & death, & the meaning of life … very simple, very complicated: one write because there is no way around it.

      1. Absolutely. Also, every writer has something to contribute – we’re all going to do something different, even if writing in the same genre, and that’s all good.

  6. “Necessity” is indeed a nice touch.

  7. cynthia says:

    My favorites: #4, #8, #10

    Enright is my current hero. Loved loved loved The Gathering. Didn’t love the voice and story of The Forgotten Waltz as much, but did love the writing every bit as much. Have just purchased every book she’s written : )

    1. Sigrun says:

      Thank you Cynthia!
      I will take your advise on her books & start with “The Gathering”

  8. theinkbrain says:

    What a wise, quirky and joyful list. Thanks Sigrun, thanks Anne Enright,

  9. stuartart says:

    Hi Sigrun, if #7 doesn’t get a writer off their @ss – nothing will. That is a great thought exercise. I Love it! 🙂

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