Happy Birthday, A.L. Kennedy, born 22 October 1965
- What I would say to a young person trying to become a writer is ‘Don’t.’ It won’t make any difference because they’ll do it anyway, but they really shouldn’t.
- When you write, you’re trying to make something as beautiful as possible for someone you’ll never meet.
- Writing is very isolating. It takes a lot of time and, after a while, makes you quite unusual – and solitary. It doesn’t fit you very well for being around people.
- I don’t think that happiness is fatal. I think you have to write from some kind of joy…
- For any book I go through a research process that covers three years, so that I can know the people and have them constructed before I start working with them.
A.L. Kennedy’s 10 Rules for Writing Fiction
- Have humility. Older/more experienced/more convincing writers may offer rules and varieties of advice. Consider what they say. However, don’t automatically give them charge of your brain, or anything else – they might be bitter, twisted, burned-out, manipulative, or just not very like you.
- Have more humility. Remember you don’t know the limits of your own abilities. Successful or not, if you keep pushing beyond yourself, you will enrich your own life – and maybe even please a few strangers.
- Defend others. You can, of course, steal stories and attributes from family and friends, fill in filecards after lovemaking and so forth. It might be better to celebrate those you love – and love itself – by writing in such a way that everyone keeps their privacy and dignity intact.
- Defend your work. Organisations, institutions and individuals will often think they know best about your work – especially if they are paying you. When you genuinely believe their decisions would damage your work – walk away. Run away. The money doesn’t matter that much.
- Defend yourself. Find out what keeps you happy, motivated and creative.
- Write. No amount of self-inflicted misery, altered states, black pullovers or being publicly obnoxious will ever add up to your being a writer. Writers write. On you go.
- Read. As much as you can. As deeply and widely and nourishingly and irritatingly as you can. And the good things will make you remember them, so you won’t need to take notes.
- Be without fear. This is impossible, but let the small fears drive your rewriting and set aside the large ones until they behave – then use them, maybe even write them. Too much fear and all you’ll get is silence.
- 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.
- Remember writing doesn’t love you. It doesn’t care. Nevertheless, it can behave with remarkable generosity. Speak well of it, encourage others, pass it on.
This advice first appeared in The Guardian
A.L. Kennedy (Alison Louise Kennedy) is a Scottish writer of six novels, five story collections, two books of non-fiction, and a book called On Writing. She has won a host of other awards, including the Costa Book of the Year for her novel Day.
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