I was recently asked in this interview to give my top writing tips for budding bloggers and history writers. I don’t profess to know anything at all, and there are much better people to ask, but, based on the fact I’ve read thousands of books, I thought I’d have a crack at a vaguely amusing list of rules. Hope they help!
Don’t patronise your readers, but don’t assume they know as much as you. Language is beautiful in its variety; it is a bubbling cauldron of syllabic possibilities, so dip your ladle and scoop out tasty synonyms for oft-used words. But don’t tumble into esoteric pretension – only Will Self can get away with sentences that resemble a choking thesaurus being given the Heimlich manoeuvre.
And while we’re on the subject, don’t vomit tautology over every sentence when one adjective will do. And feel free to start sentences with conjunctions, because that’s the kind of kickass maverick you are. Read George Orwell. Feel free to ignore his Six Rules of Writing, so long as you know why your version is better.
Use metaphorical language, analogy, and simile – compose an image that floods the mind like a rolling tsunami of vivid meaning – but do so sparingly, for repetition can be dull. Avoid clichés like the plague, because at the end of the day, when all is said and done, and the clock strikes noon, and the chickens have all come home to roost (having been counted before they hatched), it turns out that all that glitters is not gold. But an oldie can be a goodie. So, yeah, whatever…
Subvert language. Have funs with puns, and don’t be scared to MEsS AboUt with tHe RULeS. Vary your pace. Short, sharp sentences can be impactful.
Long sentences can be rather joyful in their elastic span, particularly if you are building an idea that suggests timelessness, or vastness, or incomprehension at something that seems too great to take in; or even if you want to build momentum towards some higher plateau, or some dreadful crescendo, and you wish to convey the excitement, or frosty terror, of the mounting tension as the revelation looms into view, and… OH MY GOD, WHAT IS THAT??????!!!
Listen to people chatting on the bus. Study dialogue and speech patterns. Steal everything from everyone, and hope they don’t notice. Be original. Get on Twitter and learn to be interesting in 140 characters or less. Decide if you are going to be militantly angry about the word ‘fewer’. Read voraciously, read everything – you can learn as much from crap writing as you can from literary genius. Enjoy your writing. Try and remember to eat lunch.