I've said it before and I will say it as often as it continues to resurface: Elmore Leonard's ten rules of writing fiction is as splendid an example of unhinged dipshitery as I've ever seen, and its longevity never ceases to depress me.
I've previously reproduced the 2001 TLS response to this idiotic drivel but I never tire of it, so here it is again:
The eleventh rule is: If you come across lists such as this, ignore them. The rules may sound sensible enough, but, with the exception of No 5, each could be replaced with its opposite, and still be reasonable advice. Leonard complains that, while reading a book by Mary McCarthy, he had to "stop and get the dictionary" - as if it were a form of pain (William Faulkner, who broke most of these rules whenever he wrote, complained of Hemingway that he "never used a word you had to look up in the dictionary"). And what is meant by "leave out the part that readers tend to skip"? If every writer tried to be as exciting as Leonard, there would be no Brothers Karamazov, no Anna Karenina (remember those exquisitely boring sections on agronomy?), and the shelf reserved for Dickens or Balzac would measure about a foot. Banish patois, and we lose a library of fiction stretching from Huckleberry Finn to Trainspotting. As for dialogue, if Leonard samples Henry James, he will find "remarked", "answered", "interposed", "almost groaned", "wonderingly asked", "said simply", "sagely risked" and many more colourful carriers (these from a page or two of Roderick Hudson). Should they all be ironed out into "said"?
Our rule for the cultivation of good writing is much simpler: stay in, read, and don't limit yourself to American crime fiction.
So why do I mention it yet again here? Because the Guardian proves you can, in fact, make a silk purse from a sow's ear, as they invite a group of notable (and far more talented) writers to weigh in with their own rules for writing, including Margaret Atwood, Geoff Dyer, Colm Toibin, Jeannette Winterson, AL Kennedy and many others, and the resulting riffs are witty and useful. I particularly like Kennedy's number 8:
8 Be without fear. This is impossible, but let the small fears drive your rewriting and set aside the large ones until they behave – then use them, maybe even write them. Too much fear and all you'll get is silence.
If I were to have the temerity to add my own, it would be a simple quotation of something my dearest friend has said to me time and time again over the years, as I bellyache about this writing woe and that: "Shut up and write."
Shut up and write, indeed. Well, it appears that a "Thanks, Elmore" is due.
Thanks, Elmore. Have a lovely weekend, dear readers.