Ten rules for writing fiction, an article from The Guardian, recently went viral at The Grotto—a group of about 35 San Francisco authors who share office space and comradeship. Thanks, Natalie Baszile, for the link.
Don’t be put off that the piece starts with Elmore Leonard, whose ten rules you read nine years ago in The New York Times. (Does he sound more sonorous in The Guardian? I didn’t spot the word hooptedoodle this time.)
Anyway, the UK reporter kept working the proverbial phones, reaching Annie Proulx and many others. A few favorites:
Do give the work a name as quickly as possible. Own it, and see it. Dickens knew Bleak House was going to be called Bleak House before he started writing it. The rest must have been easy.
Keep a diary. The biggest regret of my writing life is that I have never kept a journal or a diary.
Have regrets. They are fuel. On the page they flare into desire.
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.
The most purely autobiographical fiction requires pure invention. Nobody ever wrote a more autobiographical story than “The Metamorphosis.”
You see more sitting still than chasing after.
Protect the time and space in which you write. Keep everybody away from it, even the people who are most important to you.
And two resources from my own stash:
It’s hard to remember February when you’re sweltering in the firepit of August. I couldn’t invent the dinnerplate sized rosettes of sempervium swollen with rain in a rock wall, or the slow purposeful bees visiting the white lantana, this liquid warbling of songbirds–mockingbirds, robins!
She goes on:
I do the weather to stay tuned to the phenomenon of the real world. Reality is not virtual. The weather is everything–-time of day, light and shadow, scent, textures and patterns, sound, the three dimensions, distance, what’s blooming, what’s bare…and how I feel this morning, after rain…
“Fuck the plot.” Edna O’Brien says that in a Paris Review interview. She then goes on to say this: “What matters is the imaginative truth.” I don’t know what she means, exactly, by “imaginative truth,” but I can imagine what she means.
It reminds me of something that somebody told me Rick Whitaker said: “Plot tells you how their life turns out. What the fuck do I care about how their life turns out? I want to know their heart.”
And that reminds me of this quote from Andy Devine: “We all know how the story ends. If you have the baby, then the baby will die. If you fall in love, then the love will end.”
I care deeply about story. But I love these quotes, and pre-ordered Andy Devine’s book, Words. No, I was not remotely influenced by the fact that Andy Devine and Michael Kimball are the same smart, generous and enviably productive person.
I have a bunch of readings coming up fast—in in LA, SF, DC, Charlottesville, and AWP in Denver. It would be lovely to see friends.