It wasn’t until November was in full swing that I learned that this is NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month. I’m still not sure if I would want to participate in NaNoWriMo (I feel that in pursuing a goal of writing a 175 page novel in just 30 days I would probably be setting myself up to fail), but I certainly applaud those who do attempt such a daring feat.
And now, as NaNoWriMo is coming to an end and pencils have grown dull, pens have run out of ink, and typing fingers have developed calluses, I want to send out a little encouragement to those who are still working away at their novels in the form of a few inspiring writing tips from the late, great Kurt Vonnegut.
In Vonnegut’s Bagombo Snuff Box: Uncollected Short Fiction, he published eight rules for writing fiction:
1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
4. Every sentence must do one of two things—reveal character or advance the action.
5. Start as close to the end as possible.
6. Be a Sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them—in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To hell with suspense. Readers should have such a complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.
Vonnegut adds at the end of this list that Flannery O’Connor broke almost every single one of these rules, and he goes on to say that great writers tend to break rules.
So use ‘em, or break ‘em. Either way, keep up the good work.
Chloe Chatenever lives in Boulder, CO where she is interning with elephantjournal.com and Sweet Letter Press. She is a recent graduate of the University of California, Santa Cruz where she earned her Bachelor’s in Modern Literary Studies. She likes to spend her free time traveling, singing in her car, and playing board games. She also thinks penguins are pretty cool.