Over the past twelve years, I have collected many writing and editing tips. The Do's and Don'ts. Some will ring true for you, as they did for me, and some won't, but they all have their place and are worth running through.
RULES FOR WRITING
1 Avoid opening a book with a weather or a dream scene. If it's only to create atmosphere, and not a character's reaction to the weather, you don't want to go on too long. The reader is apt to leaf ahead, looking for people. There are exceptions. If you happen to be Barry Lopez, who has more ways than an Eskimo to describe ice and snow in his book Arctic Dreams, you can do all the weather reporting you want.
2 Avoid prologues: they can be annoying, especially a prologue following an introduction that comes after a foreword. But these are ordinarily found in non-fiction. A prologue in a novel is back story, and you can drop it in anywhere you want. There is a prologue in John Steinbeck's Sweet Thursday, but it's OK because a character in the book makes the point of what my rules are all about. He says: "I like a lot of talk in a book and I don't like to have nobody tell me what the guy that's talking looks like. I want to figure out what he looks like from the way he talks."
3 Try to minimise the use of adverbs to modify the verb "said" ... he admonished gravely. The writer is now exposing himself in earnest, using a word that distracts and can interrupt the rhythm of the exchange.
4 Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose. If you have the knack of playing with exclaimers the way Tom Wolfe does, you can throw them in by the handful.
5 Limitthe words "suddenly" or "all hell broke loose". This rule doesn't require an explanation. I have noticed that writers who use "suddenly" tend to exercise less control in the application of exclamation points.
6 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.
7 Read it aloud to yourself because that's the only way to be sure the rhythms of the sentences are OK (prose rhythms are too complex and subtle to be thought out – they can be got right only by ear).
8 Cut (perhaps that should be CUT): only by having no inessential words can every essential word be made to count.
9 You don't always have to go so far as to murder your darlings – those turns of phrase or images of which you felt extra proud when they appeared on the page – but go back and look at them with a very beady eye. Almost always it turns out that they'd be better dead.
10 Hold the reader's attention. (This is likely to work better if you can hold your own.) But you don't know who the reader is, so it's like shooting fish with a slingshot in the dark. What fascinates A will bore the pants off B.
11 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.
12 Don't sit down in the middle of the woods. If you're lost in the plot or blocked, retrace your steps to where you went wrong. Then take the other road. And/or change the person. Change the tense. Change the opening page.
13 Do be kind to yourself. Fill pages as quickly as possible; double space, or write on every second line. Regard every new page as a small triumph. 14 Finish the day's writing when you still want to continue.
15 Reread, rewrite, reread, rewrite. If it still doesn't work, throw it away. It's a nice feeling, and you don't want to be cluttered with the corpses of poems and stories which have everything in them except the life they need.
16 Beware of clichés. Not just the clichés that Martin Amis is at war with. There are clichés of response as well as expression. There are clichés of observation and of thought – even of conception. Many novels, even quite a few adequately written ones, are clichés of form which conform to clichés of expectation.
17 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.
18 A story needs rhythm. Read it aloud to yourself. If it doesn't spin a bit of magic, it's missing something.
19 Find your best time of the day for writing and write. Don't let anything else interfere. Afterwards it won't matter to you that the kitchen is a mess.
20 Trust your reader. Not everything needs to be explained. If you really know something, and breathe life into it, they'll know it too.
21 Put it aside. Read it pretending you've never read it before. Show it to friends whose opinion you respect and who like the kind of thing that this is.
22 Remember: when one person tells you something didn't work for them, store it away. When two people mention it, red flag it and if a third person says something about the same piece, it's probably time to change it.
23 Fix it. Remember that, sooner or later, before it ever reaches perfection, you will have to let it go and move on and start to write the next thing. Perfection is like chasing the horizon. Keep moving.
24 Increase your word power. Words are the raw material of our craft. The greater your vocabulary the more effective your writing.
25 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.
26 Read a lot-both novels and nonfiction. The novels will inspire you. They will create a need to write, and they will teach you about craft. You will be drawn to a certain type of writing and this will help you determine the sort of story you want to write. The non-fiction will fill your mind with useful information that you can use when you're writing.