The New European - - Literature Eurofile -

de­velop your tech­nique. We have school to show us the ba­sics – spell­ing, gram­mar and what have you – but af­ter that we’re on our own.

So here, pre­sented al­most as a dose of anti-franzen, are what I’ve told peo­ple in re­sponse to re­quests for ad­vice. Bear in mind that they won’t work for ev­ery­one. Some of them don’t even work for me, to be hon­est.

1 Write. Sounds ob­vi­ous but it’s the only way you’re go­ing to de­velop your own style and tech­nique. Write when­ever time al­lows, about any­thing and ev­ery­thing.

It’s like prac­tis­ing scales on a mu­si­cal in­stru­ment: you won’t nec­es­sar­ily en­joy it but it’s giv­ing you the sub­con­scious knowl­edge to loosen the shack­les, mak­ing rules and tech­nique a jump­ing-off point rather than a strait­jacket.

2 Read a lot. Read things you en­joy by writ­ers you en­joy. Don’t think too much – or even at all – about what those writ­ers are do­ing and how, just im­merse your­self in it: you’ll ab­sorb in­flu­ences sub­con­sciously and be a bet­ter writer for it. As the Amer­i­can nov­el­ist and screen­writer Gene Fowler said: “The best way to be­come a suc­cess­ful writer is to read good writ­ing, re­mem­ber it, and then for­get where you re­mem­ber it from.”

3 Don’t try and sound like a writer. There is a temp­ta­tion to adopt what you might think is a writerly tone but it’ll just makes you sound like a phoney. The best way to spot when you’re fall­ing into this trap is when you find your­self us­ing the word ‘some­what’. That’s al­ways a dead give­away: “he felt some­what em­bar­rassed.” No, he felt em­bar­rassed. ‘Some­what’ is a vac­u­ous space-filler and the surest sign that you’re try­ing to sound like a writer rather than sound like you, and that comes down to con­fi­dence. Which brings us to the next point.

4 Trust your­self. Don’t be afraid of us­ing your own voice. It’s what you’re best at, you’ve been do­ing it since you were in nap­pies, now it’s just a ques­tion of writ­ing it down in an agree­able man­ner.

5 Have some­thing in­ter­est­ing to say and say it in an in­ter­est­ing way. This def­i­nitely ap­plies if you’re look­ing to be pub­lished. Stylis­ti­cally speak­ing you could be the best writer in the world but if no­body’s in­ter­ested in what you’re writ­ing about then they’re not go­ing to read it. The pub­lish­ing in­dus­try isn’t a com­pe­ti­tion to find the best writer, it’s a com­mer­cial op­er­a­tion – it’s what sells that counts so write some­thing sell­able. And the Dan Browns and E.L. Jame­ses peo­ple are al­ways slag­ging off ? It’s their mas­sive sales that will fund a pub­lisher’s de­ci­sion to take a punt on your first novel, sun­shine.

6 Limit your re­search. Ian Rankin says he writes the book first and then goes back and does the rel­e­vant re­search, thus en­sur­ing he only does what he needs to do. It’s easy to be lured down rab­bit holes and along tan­gents when you find some­thing that piques your in­ter­est: my last book was sev­eral months late

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