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Matt Greene’s Advice for Advice for Writers

The internet is jam packed with ‘top 10 tips for a successful career in fiction’. Luckily Ostrich author Matt Greene is here to offer a helping hand to any writers writing writing tips.

As anyone who’s ever logged on to it can tell you, the internet is roughly made up of 60% pornography, 30% pictures of cats and 25% advice for writers[1]. Chances are then that if you’re not Jonathan Franzen (and if you are, Hi! Loved Freedom! I see you’re blurbing these days . . .?), you’ve come across some of this advice[2]. By the year 2025 it’s estimated that everyone with a Twitter account will have blogged their top ten tips for a successful career in fiction[3], and with this in mind I hope when doing so you’ll consider the following five maxims, which taken together comprise my comprehensive, foolproof, 0% guaranteed guide to writing writing tips.

1. VALIDATE. When writing writing tips, it’s crucial to consider the purpose of the exercise. Contrary to popular myth, the purpose of writing writing tips is not to advise people how to improve their writing but to reassure yourself that all along you’ve been doing it the only right way. Accordingly, it’s essential to take some small personal quirk and extrapolate from this a universal law. Only write before breakfast? Then that’s how it’s done! Run 10k before you turn on your laptop? Then tell us about it! Personally, I like to take a shower at three o’clock every day and invariably for the rest of the afternoon end up writing in a towel and if you aren’t doing this then you aren’t a proper writer.

2. QUOTE. As anyone who’s ever been to school knows, a well-chosen quotation is an excellent way to disguise your lack of original thought as humility and learning. In the case of writing writing advice there are two quotes to choose from: 1) From Kurt Vonnegut: ‘Write for just one person. If you make love with the window open your story will get pneumonia’, and 2) From Ernest Hemingway: ‘Write drunk, edit sober.’ It is important to deploy one of these quotes, though don’t be influenced in your choice by which writer you’ve read. It is not essential to have read what you quote. Nor is it essential to quote accurately. Hemingway, in fact, never actually said or wrote these words. Nor did he adhere to them. In fact, he isn’t a real person[4].

3. MYSTIFY. Remember, writing writing tips isn’t just about validating your personal tics and preferences. It also serves an equally important second function: demoralising and discouraging potential new competitors. To this end use your advice to make writing sound as mysterious and impenetrable as possible. Use phrases like ‘Creative sleep’ and ‘Simon the Inspiration Dog’. Remind would-be writers that it’s illegal to write a novel until you’ve read Proust in the original Sanskrit.

4. WAR ON WORDS. This cannot be overlooked. When writing writing tips it’s customary to declare war on a particular class of words, a class war if you will. Traditionally the underclass of choice has been the adverb[5], but be creative! Personally, I’ve outlawed determiners from my writing, both definite and indefinite. If you read this back you’ll notice there isn’t a single one of either, only you won’t notice because the writing flows so well it’s impossible to atomise. Still, that leaves plenty of classes to pick on. How about verbs? Subordinating conjunctions? Adjectives? Nouns? Exclamations. All of these have escaped scrutiny for far too long. Have fun with it!

5. THE M. NIGHT SHYAMALAN. Finally, but most importantly, it is essential that you conclude your writing tips with the following rule: ‘Finally but most importantly, feel free to break all of the aforementioned rules.’ Now, I realise that at first glance saying this about something as highly-regulated as creative writing might seem counter-intuitive, but it’s this final unearned twist, so seemingly at odds with everything that has come before it, that can most successfully bamboozle the aspiring novelist. Remember rules one through four. The objective was always to sacrifice the reader in honour of your ego. So then, what better way to conclude than by reminding them that they’ve just wasted ten minutes that they’ll never get back?

1 Questioning my maths? Trust me, it checks out. There’s a disturbing amount of overlap, especially if you factor in the dark web, which is basically an orgy of lolcats decrying adverbs.

2 Sorry, I’ll rephrase. Read.

3 In Finland it’s already twelve in ten.

4 ‘Hemingway’ was invented by the US government in the run-up to the first Gulf War to help persuade bookish young men who couldn’t grow beards to join the army.

5 Incidentally, for what it’s worth here are some common adverbs: today, yesterday, tomorrow, tonight, previously, usually, now, then, once. N.B. If a character in a book orders a steak it must, by law, be rare or medium. On no account can it be ‘well done.’

Ostrich by Matt Greene is out now in paperback and eBook

Matt Greene

Matt Greene was born in Watford in 1985 and studied English Language at the University of Sussex, where he edited The Badger newspaper and first became interested in writing for the stage. He has co-written four plays for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, including the sell-out farce The Straight Man.