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Some Rules for Writing

November 10, 2015

I recently gave a lecture to writing students at the University of Sydney for a subject called “Writers at Work”, and one of the students asked me what my “rules” for writing were, based on the Guardian’s Ten Rules for Writing Fiction, a compilation of writers’ personal tips . I love reading these kinds of lists, and find them eminently useful for thinking about my own writing. Here are my rules, to compare and contrast, to take on or not, and to consider.

Rules for Writing

1. Write often, every day if you can, or at least every other day, even if it is only for ten minutes. In this time, put all else aside.

2. Spend time doing nothing else but thinking.

3. Write things that no one will ever read, as here you will find the freedom to discover what you really want to say.

4. Be curious – the essential quality for a writer above all others.

5. Make a habit of noticing and remembering the details of everything around you. This ensures you will never be bored but also trains you into the heightened awareness you will need.

6. Learn the names of birds, trees and fabrics.

7. Make lists of ideas for stories – I have some ideas I’ve been carrying around for years and I know some I never will write, although I can’t know that for sure. These ideas are like the furniture in a familiar room.

8. It’s okay to write badly as bad writing can always be transformed, although the transforming part is something that can take considerable time and effort.

9. Write letters. Not only is it magic to receive letters, it is an important craft for writers. Letters are all voice, that elusive quality that it can be so hard to develop.

10. (After Walter Benjamin – whose Writers Technique in Thirteen Theses is my favourite ever list of rules for writers) Have in plentiful supply of the pens, notebooks and teacups you will need, and choose the ones of these that give you the most pleasure. I like a vintage exercise book and a black biro. With these as my companions, I am never lost.

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