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The Ten-Rule Hustle

Though I’m not sure what spawned its resurgence, we’re going through a new wave of responding  to Elmore Leonard’s Ten Rules book. The Guardian brings together some of fiction’s best to posit alternative rules. 

Here are ten of my personal faves (with an annotation or two):

1. “Take a pencil to write with on aeroplanes. Pens leak. But if the pencil breaks, you can’t sharpen it on the plane, because you can’t take knives with you. Therefore: take two pencils.” (Margaret Atwood — chosen mostly because I like that she says “aeroplanes” and mentions knives.)

2. “You most likely need a thesaurus, a rudimentary grammar book, and a grip on reality. This latter means: there’s no free lunch. Writing is work. It’s also gambling. You don’t get a pension plan. Other people can help you a bit, but ­essentially you’re on your own. ­Nobody is making you do this: you chose it, so don’t whine.” (Atwood again, makes me want to stop whining.)

3. “Do not place a photograph of your ­favourite author on your desk, especially if the author is one of the famous ones who committed suicide.”  (Roddy Doyle)

4.  “If you use a computer, constantly refine and expand your autocorrect settings. The only reason I stay loyal to my piece-of-shit computer is that I have invested so much ingenuity into building one of the great auto­correct files in literary history. Perfectly formed and spelt words emerge from a few brief keystrokes: ‘Niet’ becomes ‘Nietzsche’, ‘phoy’ becomes  ­’photography’ and so on. ­Genius!” (Geoff Dyer–the closest any of us can get, despite the miracles of owning a Mac, to having a “writing machine.” I’d need to program in ‘fb’ equals “face burning with…”–one of those tics I recently discovered, along with various tortured ways of describing panic.)

5. “Have regrets. They are fuel. On the page they flare into desire.” (Geoff Dyer — good to know my basement full of regrets has use!)

6. “The first 12 years are the worst.” (Anne Enright — let’s hope she’s right!)

7. “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.” (Enright. Love her, especially with her follow up to this one: “You can also do all that with whiskey.”)

8. “Only bad writers think that their work is really good.” (Enright. Then so many of us are spectacular!)

9. “Don’t have children.” (Richard Ford — it pisses me off enough to make me want to write.)

10. “Interesting verbs are seldom very interesting.” (Jonathan Franzen. Cool, I only know a few verbs.)

11. Keep a light, hopeful heart. But ­expect the worst.” (Joyce Carol Oates. I can see that, when tempered, my negativity has a bright side!)

12. “Work on a computer that is disconnected from the ­internet.” (Zadie Smith, echoing something Franzen says. But how do they bear the lonely minutes?)

13.  When asked for 10 rules, find 13. (Andrea Dupree)

Take a look — there are some good ones in here!  Oh, and then disconnect from the Internet instantly and write.


3 comments on “The Ten-Rule Hustle

  1. Carla Paton
    February 25, 2010

    Thanks for this and the link, Andrea. Love number 7. I try to apply the “imagine you’re dying” rule to all areas of life as well. It made me drop out of business school and return to my MFA program. It wasn’t all that hard to imagine I was dying in business school. Pass the whiskey.

  2. andreadupree
    February 25, 2010

    Carla: Thanks for your response, and maybe your business school hiatus was just what you needed to rev up the writing! I just looked again and love these two, from Geoff Dyer:

    9 Do it every day. Make a habit of putting your observations into words and gradually this will become instinct. This is the most important rule of all and, naturally, I don’t follow it.

    10 Never ride a bike with the brakes on. If something is proving too difficult, give up and do something else. Try to live without resort to per­severance. But writing is all about ­perseverance. You’ve got to stick at it. In my 30s I used to go to the gym even though I hated it. The purpose of ­going to the gym was to postpone the day when I would stop going. That’s what writing is to me: a way of ­postponing the day when I won’t do it any more, the day when I will sink into a depression so profound it will be indistinguishable from perfect bliss.

    Also, Laura Miller wrote rules from the POV of a reader, and the fulminating going on in the comments section has entertained me for the past 15 minutes.

    Can we move to gin?

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This entry was posted on February 24, 2010 by in The Scoop, The Write Idea.

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