Day 46

5.02: It’s always a good idea, when in the business of selling newspapers to the labrador-coddling, quiche-chowing middle-classes, to give them some encouragement. Every nitwit on the face of the planet whose parents have an Aga (this includes me; mine have two, except one isn’t a branded Aga) is either writing a rotten novel, or thinks they have a goldmine of an idea, like a nebulous Steve McQueen, about to stage a prison break from their creative bowel. So rules for writers generally go down well. And this weekend, the Guardian served up a positive diabetic coma of literary fun-size Mars bars, so many rules in fact, the completed thing was too big for the internet.

Pity the slavish disciple of Guardian advice – the sort that pins up the wallcharts, learns the languages when it gives away phrasebooks, watches the art-house DVDs it Sellotapes to the cover, and goes on those impossibly expensive tours of the Caucuses it advertises next to the crossword. If people followed all the advice on offer, they’d always carry a notebook, avidly-but-infrequently read a thesaurus stapled to the ceiling in a disused garden shed, disconnect from the internet, and give up their jobs to become a still-sitting, forward-marching, own-joke-laughing lunatic who masturbates under a table once a year at Christmas.

Inevitably lots of the advice in here seems to be good. I shall add it to my links section, and refer to it frequently. But inevitably, some of it is bad, or seems it: No alcohol, sex or drugs while you are working, says Colm Tóibín, who has no idea what a hole in my schedule that would gouge.

Some of it is incomprehensible, like this from Anne Enright:

Imagine that you are dying. If you had a terminal disease would you ­finish this book? Why not? The thing that annoys this 10-weeks-to-live self is the thing that is wrong with the book. So change it. Stop arguing with yourself. Change it. See? Easy. And no one had to die.

Some is impossible to follow. Esther Freud counsels: Cut out the metaphors and similes. In my first book I promised myself I wouldn’t use any and I slipped up during a sunset in chapter 11. I still blush when I come across it.

Cut out the metaphors. Being generous, I count three metaphors (cut out, slipped up, and come across) in these three sentences. Metaphors are unavoidable: they’re how people talk.

Some of it is plain wrong. Don’t worry about posterity – as Larkin (no sentimentalist) observed “What will survive of us is love,says Helen Dunmore.

Actually, Larkin spoke of, “Our almost-instinct almost true: / What will survive of us is love.” Or, in other words, no-one really believes that “what will survive of it is love,” and it isn’t true anyway. Dunmore would do well to heed Sarah Waters’ advice: Read like mad. But try to do it analytically.

6.55: Still crawling a bit, and probably not helped by thinking about the Blitzkrieg of rules for writers as soon as I woke up. When I worked in Homebase, one of the guys in the garden centre used to say of compost, “it’s just shit for putting on shit.” Applied right, roses bloom; otherwise all you can do is leave the pile to steam.

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~ by David Thorley on February 23, 2010.

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