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Colson Whitehead's Rules for Writing

July 29, 2012

Tags: rules for writing, show and tell

"Most people say, 'Show, don’t tell,' but I stand by Show and Tell, because when writers put their work out into the world, they’re like kids bringing their broken unicorns and chewed-up teddy bears into class in the sad hope that someone else will love them as much as they do," writes Colson Whitehead in "How to Write" (Colson Whitehead's Rules for Writing, New York Times Sunday Book Review, 7-26-12).

"Writer's block is a tool -- use it," he writes, in Rule No. 8, which means, if you don't feel like writing, this lets you off the hook in the eyes of others--up to a point.

If you enjoy Whitehead's ten rules, check out the Guardian's wonderful potpourri, Ten Rules For Writing Fiction by various authors.

“You most likely need a thesaurus, a rudimentary grammar book, and a grip on reality," writes Margaret Atwood. "This latter means: there'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."

Authors included are Elmore Leonard, Diana Athill, Margaret Atwood, Roddy Doyle, Helen Dunmore, Geoff Dyer, Anne Enright, Richard Ford, Jonathan Franzen, Esther Freud, Neil Gaiman, David Hare, PD James, AL Kennedy (in part one) and # Hilary Mantel, Michael Moorcock, Michael Morpurgo, Andrew Motion, Joyce Carol Oates, Annie Proulx, Philip Pullman, Ian Rankin, Will Self, Helen Simpson, Zadie Smith, Colm Tóibín, Rose Tremain, Sarah Waters, Jeanette Winterson (in part two).

"Keep a light, hopeful heart," writes Joyce Carol Oates. "But ­expect the worst."

Elmore Leonard: "Using adverbs is a mortal sin."

Richard Ford: "Marry somebody you love and who thinks you being a writer's a good idea."

Jonathan Franzen: "Write in the third person unless a ­really distinctive first-person voice ­offers itself irresistibly."