As the old joke goes: ‘There are three rules to writing novels. Unfortunately nobody knows what they are.’ I like that. Recently, I was a guest speaker at a writers’ workshop and I was asked what rules I follow. I paraphrased Elmore Leonard and said never start with the weather. It wasn’t a satisfactory answer.
The same questioner then asked me if I could recommend a good book that taught fiction writing. I quoted the old saw: ‘You can’t teach someone to be a good writer but they can learn.’ Again I sensed my reply had gone down badly. Specifics were needed. Well then, my questioner demanded, what have you learned?
I looked around. What had I learned? “Don’t force it,” I said.
“Don’t force it – if it’s not working, move on. And be thoughtful. Write thoughtfully. And don’t butt in when your characters are talking. Keep out of it and let them get on with it. And trust your readers. They’ll get it, they really will. Read it out loud all the time and when you’ve written it, whatever it is, put it away and let it brew. And most importantly, be you. Don’t be any other writer. Write like you write.”
There was an awkward silence.
“Any other questions?” I said. Fortunately, there weren’t.