Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Hilary Mantel's Ten Observations About Writing

In the 39th in a series of posts on 2014 books entered for The Story Prize, Hilary Mantel, author of The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher (Henry Holt), shares the benefit of her experience.

Ten things I’ve learned….since I started writing my first novel, in 1974 (which feels like yesterday). Ten things to think about, or ten rules I try to keep: I won’t call them advice, as I’d hardly presume to give it.

1.  If you see a problem in your narrative, go there fast. Head for the point of danger. It’s where the energy is.
2.  Free up your creativity: Liberate it from your expectations and experience. When you have an idea, don’t assume it’s a novel or story, just because that’s your usual medium. It might be a play, poem, song, or movie. Who knows, it might be best expressed as garden design. Or maybe you should knit it?
3.  If the rhythm of your prose is broken, read poetry.
4.  Cut every page of dialogue by one-third. 
5.  If a phrase troubles you, strike it out, and if there seems no alternative, try simple omission. If you are dubious about it in your manuscript, you’ll shrink from it in the printed book.
6.  If you don’t know how your story ends, don’t worry. Press on, in faith and hope.
7.  If you see a habit forming, break it.
8.  Control where the story starts. In a novel, don’t put anything important—like a clue—before "Chapter One." Prefaces, epigraphs: 90% of readers ignore them.
9.  When you break through, not everyone close to you will enjoy your success. Accept this.
10.  Writing for the theater is the most fun.