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1 – Few Words Good – As George Orwell wrote in his Rules For Writing – “If a word can be cut out, always cut it out”. Whatever form or genre you’re writing in, fewer words make more impact. So stop flannelling, and cut it out.
2 – Try writing with other people – Sometimes its good to go it alone – but sometimes it can be nightmarish and horrible. If you have friends who are writers, working together could be just the support network you need.
3 – Research – In every way you can. In the words of Katori Hall: “Some people say write what you know, but I don’t agree with that. Write what you want to learn about.” Today it’s easier than ever to research pretty much anything – so talk to people, read books, search the net and research your writing to life.
4 – Make something – Writing doesn’t just have to be a word document. What will your words look like? Where will they appear? Whether it’s a beautiful book, a carving, a code, graffiti, a song or a tattoo, think about how you can make something with your words.
5 – Think like a musician – Musicians get a real energy from playing for a live audience. But as writers, our audiences are just as close: they’ll be as near the page as you are. Imagine they’re right there: how are you going to enthrall them?
6 – Travel – Whether it’s a walk around the block or trek along the Old Silk Road, nothing gets the creative juices flowing like the act of going somewhere: whether for inspiration or as part of a project itself.
7 – Edit like you hate yourself – The last person you should trust about your own work is you. Cut as much as you can bear to. And then cut some more.
8 – Paint by numbers – Stuck for an idea for a character? Design one. Start with a name and an age. Give them a physical weakness and a mental weakness. Invent a challenge they need to overcome. Make something about them disgusting, and something about them beautiful. Then go from there.
9 – 26 word plot – What’s your story about? If you can’t explain it in 26 words or fewer, chances are there’s a problem with it, or you don’t understand it yourself.
10 – Fool yourself into thinking you’re a novice – When you’re practiced at something, you tend to fall into familiar habits. Try to approach something like it’s your first time and you’ll probably end up making something richer.
11 – Only tell relevant stories – Don’t digress.
12 – An idea is never wasted, it’s just waiting – if it doesn’t fit this thing, it might well fit your next thing.
13 – Discover forgotten genres – Have you thought about writing a libretto? A sales pitch? A pantoum? A film review? A diary? A curse? An instruction manual? There are many ways to write. And it’s all just writing, really.
14 – Don’t be scared of your subconscious – Ideas that seem to come from nowhere are the best kind. Don’t be frightened – when your imagination speaks, listen.
15 – Feed your subconscious – Consume everything you can! Read everything, see everything, smell, taste, touch and listen to everything you can. The more you feed your mind, the more it will feed your writing.
16 – Suggestions are more powerful than descriptions – In horror films, the monster is always scarier before you see it. Suggesting something to the reader, rather than fully describing it, is often a better way of bringing something to life.
17 – Present your work in the best possible light – Often your work should have nothing to do with your personal brand. Know what you want people to see first in your work, and bring that right to the front.
18 – Try the “so what” test – Read a paragraph. Then think: “so what?”. If you haven’t got an answer, cut it all out.
19 – You know it’s going well when… you find you don’t need the cookies, the coffee, the music, the quiet, or the five minute breaks.
20 – Don’t make (too many) notes – When you’re planning a project, don’t try and write everything down – you don’t want to have 100 pages of notes getting in your way when you start writing properly. Far better to read and remember something than to write it down and forget about it.
21 – Take your time – There is no rush.
22 – Know why you’re doing it – What are you writing this for? If your tone isn’t clear then it makes your writing mediocre. If you don’t know why you’re writing it, your reader won’t either.
23 – Put it in a drawer – When you’ve slaved over something for 6 months you’re in no position to edit it. Put it in a drawer and go back to it when you’ve got some distance and can be objective about it.
24 – Use the people you love – Whether it’s reading drafts, bouncing new ideas around or helping you cope with your 50th rejection letter, the people you love are a really important part of your writing life. Don’t forget about them.
25 – Who are you writing for? – Think about who your audience are and what they expect from you. If you’re not writing for someone, who’s going to read it?
26 – Beware what you really love – Love is blind. That line of dialogue that you like more than any other line in your play? Chances are it’s the one that needs to be cut more than anything.
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We asked the speakers from our Translation from Outside the Metropolis event to explore the topic further. Here, Mary Ann Newman, a translator of Catalan and Spanish, explores rural and urban issues in Catalan literature.