Thursday 4 March 2010

10 rules for writing according to Jon

Okay, so apparently the Guardian has been running a 10 rules for writing thingy, and David and Jenni thought it would be interesting/amusing/shocking/inspiring for me to give my take on these, seeing as I'm an editor and I've written one book and that. Anyway, this is going to be messy so bear with me:


1. If a publisher says they are closed to submissions don't e-mail them an entire novel and then spend every other day asking them whether they've read it yet and reminding them how amazing this novel is. They will not thank you, your submission won't be read and, very likely, neither will your future ones. Also do some research on your chosen publisher, don't just use a scattergun submission approach. It's unlikely that Graveyard Books (I made that name up, apologies if it's real) is going to want to see your book on Breeding Newfoundland Dogs.

2. Enjoy what you're writing. If you're writing SF/Horror/Fantasy you should at least be a fan of these genres and well read in all. After all, you're going to need to know what has gone before and what works or doesn't work. In fact, read as widely as possible anyway. If you just confine your knowledge of literature to the genre stuff then not only are you missing out on some gems, but your work is likely going to tread too familiar territory. Mix it up a bit.

3. Don't think that just because an idea would make a great film/TV series that it's going to translate well into prose. Sometimes fiction can do things that film can't and vice-versa. Also, don't write a book with a view to it being one day a great movie. That's a hostage to fortune and, ultimately, you'll probably be disappointed when it happens anyway and the studio rapes your precious work.

4. Don't just repeat what you've read and imagine that it will work. I've you're a big fan of David Gemmell I'd be unlikely to publish your novel Driss The Legend. "You'll love this, it's just like Gemmell," you'll say. Well, in that case I'll read Gemmell then won't I? Influences are fine, but try to make your work your own.

5. And this is where I start running out of ideas... erm. Nice weather.

6. Oh yes, it's usually useful once you've finished your mighty tome to get someone else to read it, in fact several people will be ideal. After all, after months/years of working on the damn thing you probably no longer have any critical distance from it and can't see the wood for the trees. A fresh view on it will pick up on things you may not have noticed and show you the way to further revisions and improvements.

7. On that note, when you submit a final manuscript to your publisher, send them something you would be happy to go to print the very next day. In other words, send out the most final and polished version you can.

8. If you're writing a fantasy novel, avoid overly complex names. Okay, so we don't particularly want to know a story about Bob The Slayer, or Derek The Destroyer (or maybe you do?) but neither do I want to get bogged down in the trials of Yglikinikas The Third, Son of Ylinkizasmus The Second, Heir of all Allundrianianuyhusus.

9. Just because one publisher doesn't like what you do, don't give up and don't chuck your work away. After all, none of us editors are perfect and sometimes what doesn't work for us, may well work fine for somebody else. Hell, it may even become a huge seller. If someone had pitched Pride and Prejudice and Zombies to me for example, after I'd stopped laughing at them, I'm sure I'd have politely said no.

10. Tell the best story you can. Doesn't matter what kind of writing you're doing, if you're working on your finely created opus, or doing a series of action/adventure books based on a cartoon/film/cereal then just do the best job you can. Professionalism and commitment will get you a long way. If you do a project half-arsedly it will certainly show and you won't be invited back to the party.

Anyway, that was profound wasn't it? I may well be wrong about all of the above and it may turn out I'm a massive hypocrite or something, but them's my thought at 4 in the afternoon on a Thursday.

Happy writing folks!

Jonathan Oliver
(Editor/Overlord/International Playboy - delete as applicable)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great post! Found number 5 particularly informative! ;) Thanks!