Sir Andrew Motion’s 10 Rules for Writing


Sir Andrew Motion FRSL (born 26 October 1952) is an English poet, novelist, and biographer, who was Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom from 1999 to 2009.
Here’s his list of advice for writers:
1.     Decide when in the day (or night) it best suits you to write, and organize your life accordingly.
Easier said than done. This piece of advice assumes that you live alone and are master of your own fate. I would have thought a prerequisite for this dictum would be deciding whether there was actually time in your schedule for writing in the first place. Sometimes, a writer finds him- or herself in a season in life where writing simply isn’t possible. For example, if you have several young children (or an elderly relative) to look after it might be out of the question during that particular period of your life. Conversely, if you do have some free time, you still might find yourself with no openings for writing because other less important matters take up your time, like watching three hours of TV per night. There are priorities that need to be worked out if you want to be a writer.
2.     Think with your senses as well as your brain.
I once tried thinking with my nose, but didn’t really get very far. In fact, I think I gave myself a nasal concussion.
3.     Honor the miraculousness of the ordinary.
Should we quibble over the fact that something that’s miraculous is, by definition, out of the ordinary? Probably not. We know what he means. However, I think that probably this piece of advice would be better suited to poets rather than novelists or playwrights. Poetry, good poetry, does find depth in the simplest of things.
4.     Lock different characters/elements in a room and tell them to get on.
This is advice, surely, for novelists and playwrights – or even kidnappers – rather than poets. The element of drama relies on the tension between characters in a finite, restricted world. Which is all very well until the police catch up with you.
5.     Remember there is no such thing as nonsense.
This remstock blonds the octorond. Fidelite nestrum woodoo henckelboin wee!
6.     Bear in mind Wilde's dictum that “only mediocrities develop"— and challenge it.
This is rather insulting, is it not? Motion here is asking us to prove that we mediocrities don’t in fact develop. We stagnate. Is that what he wants us to demonstrate?
7.     Let your work stand before deciding whether or not to serve.
Not entirely sure what he’s getting at here with the standing and serving. Is this an oblique reference to John Milton’s famous poem “On His Blindness,” which finishes with the words “They also serve who only stand and waite?” In which case, I still don’t know what he’s talking about.
8.     Think big and stay particular.
Is it possible to do both at the same time without suffering a brain hemorrhage? I thought not. At most you can oscillate pleasantly between the two. But then, as the old adage says: He who sits on the fence will end up with a split personality.
9.     Write for tomorrow, not for today.
The problem about writing for tomorrow is that the editors of today may not buy your work. The quirky, the difficult and the downright incomprehensible are all very well but unless there is a readership for them today you will have little chance of being published, except by avant-garde publishers, who quite often come and go overnight with not a trace left behind. On the other hand, there is certainly merit in not just writing cheap rubbish to satisfy the appetite of pulp readers. But if you’ve got to put food on the table, maybe cheap rubbish is the more moral choice. Just make sure it’s the best cheap rubbish that you can possibly write.
10.  Work hard.

Now this is one piece of advice I can wholeheartedly endorse. It’s true that skill, practice and intelligence play their part, but without hard work any writer is bound to fail. Conversely, hard work by itself is no guarantee of success if you don’t have the skills to back it up. The key, it seems to me, is to make the most of whatever modest gifts you possess, practice them, work at them and produce the best work you can. (Unless you win the lottery and can then dedicate yourself to a sybaritic lifestyle, while hard work is relegated to a laughable pastime you use to dabble in in the past.)

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