1. Neil Gaiman
The main rule of writing is that if you do it with enough assurance and confidence, you’re allowed to do whatever you like. (That may be a rule for life as well as for writing. But it’s definitely true for writing.) So write your story as it needs to be written. Write it honestly, and tell it as best you can.
2. Elmore Leonard
Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip. Think of what you skip reading a novel: thick paragraphs of prose you can see have too many words in them.
3. Roddy Doyle
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.
4. Ester Freud
A story needs rhythm. Read it aloud to yourself. If it doesn’t spin a bit of magic, it’s missing something.
5. AL Kennedy
Remember you love writing. It wouldn’t be worth it if you didn’t. If the love fades, do what you need to and get it back.
6. John Steinbeck
If you are using dialogue, say it aloud as you write it. Only then will it have the sound of speech.
7. George Orwell
Never use a long word where a short one will do.
8. Susan Sontag
Love words, agonize over sentences. And pay attention to the world.
9. Margaret Atwood
It’s tough out there in Bookworld. Tread carefully. Don’t speak so softly that you can’t be heard, nor so loudly that you’re deafening. Carry a medium-sized shtick.
10. John Irving
Titles are important; I have them before I have books that belong to them. I have last chapters in my mind before I see first chapters, too. I usually begin with endings, with a sense of aftermath, of dust settling, of epilogue. I love plot, and how can you plot a novel if you don’t know the ending first? How do you know how to introduce a character if you don’t know how he ends up?
11. Bret Easton Ellis
I start with a rough outline, an experimental, very free-form first draft that’s based on everything I want to include in the novel but that I also know won’t make it into the final draft. And in that first draft there are exercises, samples of how I imagine the narrator might speak if describing something. I ask questions like, Can I use metaphors with this narrator? Will he be able to see something as something else? No, Patrick Bateman won’t be able to do that. Everything is all surface for him.
12. Alan Hollinghurst
I tend to have some significant plot resolution just before the end, and then a coda that leaves things in the air. I think it’s a way of returning the novel to life, of saying that there are always things beyond the shape and scope of the novel.
13. Zadie Smith
Work on a computer that is disconnected from the internet.
14. Jojo Moyes
Don’t set pen to paper until you know your main characters inside out. Create files detailing their appearances, likes, dislikes, and personal background. You may not use all the information, but it is a crucial step in planning your story.
15. Donna Tartt
With all my books, I start with a general mood before I have a story. “The Secret History” very much started from a mood. A mood of cold rooms, ink on your hands and feeling homesick, away from home for the first time.