Rules for Writing (3)


For my last trick, I would like to assess a former Poet Laureate and his suitability for life as a children’s entertainer – for that, minus the squirty flower, is what we children’s writers are.

Poetry in Motion

Sir Andrew Motion: economical with words and with a surname that makes me want to move along in a perambulatory fashion. We are spoiled for children’s poets, though they aren’t as celebrated as they deserve to be: Benjamin Zephaniah, Roger McGough, Michael Rosen, Giles Andreae, Shel Silverstein to name but a scraping from beneath my little fingernail. Would Sir Andrew suit this life, or is he too airy-fairy? Here are his 10 rules for a productive writing career.

1. Decide when in the day (or night) it best suits you to write, and organise your life accordingly.

How many times have I sat bolt upright in bed and thought to myself: “3am! I must get to my writing implements at once!” Er, never. Daytime writer, me.

2. Think with your senses as well as your brain.

This is like seeing with your eyes closed, shopping without spending, singing in your head and other sundry every-day experiences. Fine advice.

“Seriously. The human was big.”

3. Honour the miraculousness of the ordinary.

NAUGHTY FAIRIES legitimised my love of scrutinising the small things and then rushing inside to write about them. The bloom on a wet pebble. The smell of a beetle’s wings. How furry a bumblebee actually is. Writers don’t need mass world events to produce good material. Here’s a challenge for you. Sit in front of a flower for five minutes and look. Note colours, smells, textures, insect activity. Observe the fairy thumbing its nose at you from the tiny leaf near the base of the plant. Thumb your nose back. Write it down. Ta-da. A book.

4. Lock different characters/elements in a room and tell them to get on.

There is something pleasingly totalitarian about this. “Just TALK to each other! How hard can it be? You went to Hogwarts, he went to Hogwarts…”

5. Remember there is no such thing as nonsense.

Bionic hamsters notwithstanding.

6. Bear in mind Oscar Wilde’s dictum that “only mediocrities develop” – and ­challenge it.

I can’t decide if this means the Poet Laureate feels mediocre himself, or if he thinks we can all be geniuses if we work at it, or both. A bit obfuscatory I feel.

7. Let your work stand before deciding whether or not to serve.

I like the implication that my books are, in fact, a case of fine wine. Another glass of silly jokes and peculiar metaphors, Vicar?

8. Think big and stay particular.

This sounds terrifically guru-ish, if a bit smug. I have no idea how to put it into practice but I’d like to try.

9. Write for tomorrow, not for today.

I believe one has to be rich in order to think like this. There’s no shame in approaching your writing commercially if you have bills to pay, not to mention men in dark suits standing at lonely crossroads with weaponry, receipts and long memories. The perfect approach is a mixture of both. Write for 11.59pm – 12.01am. Bingo.

10. Work hard.

You’re meant to be a poet, man! I am sure this dull little truism was SUPPOSED to read: “Chase those words around like sheep, with hours to go before you sleep.”

Which brings Sir Andrew Motion’s total to an arbitrary 6/10. Don’t ask me how I reach these figures, people. Call it artistic licence. All together now: There once was a poet called Motion…

When approached for this 10 rules thing, Philip Pullman wisely declared: “My main rule is to say no to things like this, which tempt me away from my proper work.” So it’s back to penguins for me tomorrow.

One response »

  1. Pingback: One Horn or Two? « Phrase and Fable

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