Read Comments

The first 12 years are the worst

In a series called Ten rules for writing fiction, Guardian editors compiled advice from twenty-nine authors. And in my attempt to establish the streak I mentioned last week, I reread these recommendations by my betters. If you’ve not seen this series, I recommend reading it.

Although the authors aim their counsel at novelists, there are good suggestions to follow for almost anyone trying to write. Take Atwood’s excellent advice, for example:

5 Do back exercises. Pain is distracting.

7 …[T]here’s no free lunch. Writing is work. It’s also gambling. You don’t get a pension plan. Other people can help you a bit, but ­essentially you’re on your own. Nobody is making you do this: you chose it, so don’t whine.

The stillness with which I compose prose exacts a toll on my spine, so I’ve had to resume yoga. And it’s useful to remember when in the throes that I chose this. And that I’d choose it again.

It’s also useful to remember that I’ll never feel adequate or satisfied and that that’s totally normal:

5 You know that sickening feeling of inadequacy and over-exposure you feel when you look upon your own empurpled prose? Relax into the awareness that this ghastly sensation will never, ever leave you, no matter how successful and publicly lauded you become. It is intrinsic to the real business of writing and should be cherished.

–Will Shelf

Moreover, finding cheer in uncommon things and regret in common ones is totally normal:

7 If you have to read, to cheer yourself up read biographies of writers who went insane.

–Colm Tóibín

5 Keep a diary. The biggest regret of my writing life is that I have never kept a journal or a diary.

–Geoff Dyer

An animated notebook: I found this unused flip book journal someone gave me.

An animated notebook AKA my new writing “diary”: someone gave me this flip book journal years ago.

Also, I should not feel badly about being the reclusive douche I am:

My main rule is to say no to things like this, which tempt me away from my proper work.

–Philip Pullman

Some of the rules resonated enough for me to try to follow them while writing. I employed both of these recommendations today:

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.

–Anne Enright

5 Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.

–Neil Gaiman

Naturally, all of these rules have me thinking about whether I have any writing rules of my own. If I had to submit a list of ten recommendations, what would I produce?

At this point, my list would have these rules:

1).  Show up.

2).  Wait.

3).  Wait.

4).  Wait.

5).  Keep waiting.

6).  Wait.

7).  Wait.

8).  Seriously, wait.

9).  You might want to go surf the internet and do other things, but just stay with this blank screen.

10).  And…

The post-it that covers the camera on my laptop.

The post-it that covers the camera on my laptop.

Enright says:

1 The first 12 years are the worst.



  • Matt July 6, 2016

    I salute that post-it.

  • IaR July 6, 2016

    Great post! Keep up the streak!

  • Constance July 6, 2016

    Hilarious! Good job keeping up that streak!

  • Louie July 6, 2016

    These rules are great. I’m not a writer but I feel like they relate to me.

  • Charles Major July 11, 2016

    I was going to write a comment …

    … But then I thought I should wait

  • Jill July 15, 2016

    Your writing is so good.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Thank you for subscribing. Please check your email for further instructions.

%d bloggers like this: