From the Forge

David Hare’s Rules for Writers

Last month I read a post I liked on Advice to Writers, a site I enjoy reading because they offer brief, and usually pithy, quotes from writers. This post was titled “David Hare’s 10 Rules for Writers.” Sharing successful writers’ personal rules happens often in this column, and I think you will enjoy three of David Hare’s ten rules.

1. Never take advice from anyone with no investment in the outcome. This seems somewhat counter-intuitive, doesn’t it? Don’t we usually want at least some of the advice we get on our writing to come from an objective source? I know I do. But for writers, it’s also important to get advice from people who have an investment in writing, people who know writing and believe writing is worth investing time and energy in. Those are the people who can give advice worth listening to.

2. Never complain of being misunderstood. You can choose to be understood, or you can choose not to. When I taught fiction and poetry workshops at the university, there were always students who received unwelcome feedback from the group and responded by saying something like, “You just don’t understand.” And my response was always, “When more than one person in this group doesn’t understand, the problem is almost surely in the writing, not the reading.”

3. The two most depressing words in the English language are “literary fiction.” This one made me laugh. It expresses, of course, one of the longest-running tensions in creative writing—the conflict between “literary fiction” and “genre fiction.” During most of my career as an English professor, I was biased in favor of the literary side. But my guilty pleasure was always crime fiction, and when a few years ago I began reading Scandinavian crime fiction, also known as “Nordic Noir,” and when I read Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove for the first time, I realized that there is genre fiction and then there is literary fiction in some genres.

Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks?