Writers like making up “My Ten Rules for Writing” lists (heck, I’ve done it, right here), and other writers like reading and arguing with them. I’ve said before that I suspect the liking has less to do with a desire for advice and more with a desire for company (“See! Somebody else thinks this is important, too!”), but even the most wrong-headed List of Ten can provide a useful insight or two.
Today’s noteworthy list is over at the Paris Review tumblr: Geoff Dyer’s Ten Rules for Writing Fiction. It’s the usual mix of universal and idiosyncratic, helpful and what-was-he-thinking. The rule that stuck out, for me, was the second one: “Don’t write in public places.” I’ve seen other writers’ lists with the same caveat (coffee shops are often singled out); on the other hand, I’ve seen or heard other writers talking about how writing in cafes and coffee shops was their salvation. J. K. Rowling, famously, wrote her first Harry Potter novel in a cafe in Edinburgh; the humorist and playwright Jean Kerr used to resort to writing in the front seat of the family station wagon. Of course, what counts as a public or a private place can differ from writer to writer: a naturally gregarious and easily distracted person might need a quiet office with a closed door in order to get stuff done; a writing mom with a house full of noisy children and nonstop demands on her attention might find an hour a day at the neighborhood Starbucks to be an oasis of sweet privacy.
(More thoughts on public/private writing spaces can be found here. For the curious, I found the link by Googling “Jean Kerr writing station wagon”.)
Everybody’s different. But it’s telling, I think, that the one rule most lists have in common is “Keep on writing.”