Etgar Keret, above, is a best selling author and award-winning filmmaker with the soul of a teenage zine publisher. He’s a master of the strange and short who plays by his own rules. This sounds like a recipe for outsider status but Keret frequently pops up in The New York Times, The New Yorker, and on public radio’s This American Life.
The child of Holocaust survivors told Tikkun that he began writing stories as a way out of his miserable existence as a stuttering 19-year-old soldier in the Israeli army. This may explain why he’s so generous with young fans, handing his stories over to them to interpret in short films and animations.
When Rookie, a website for teenage girls, invited him to share ten writing tips, he playfully obliged. It’s worth noting that he refrained from prescribing something that’s a staple of other authors’ tip lists — the adoption of a daily writing practice. As he told the San Francisco Bay Guardian:
For me, the term “writing routine” sounds like an oxymoron. It is a bit like saying “having-a-once-in-a-lifetime-insight-which-makes-you-want-to burst-into-tears routine.”
With no further ado, here are his ten rules for writers, along with a liberal sprinkling of some of my favorite Keret stories.
1. Make sure you enjoy writing.
You won’t find Keret comparing his chosen profession to opening a vein. As he told Rookie:
Writing is a way to live another life…be grateful for the opportunity to expand the scope of your life.
2. Love your characters.
…though few will ever seem as lovable as the girl in Goran Dukic’s charming animation of Keret’s story “What Do We Have In Our Pockets?” below.
3. When you’re writing, you don’t owe anything to anyone.
Don’t equate loving your characters with treating them nicely. See Keret’s story “Fungus.”
4. Always start from the middle.
This is perhaps Keret’s most conventional tip, though his writing shows he’s anything but conventional when it comes to locating that middle. His novella, Kneller’s Happy Campers (on which the film Wristcutters: A Love Story, starring Tom Waits, was based) manages to start at the beginning, middle and end.
5. Try not to know how it ends.
6. Don’t use anything just because “that’s how it always is.”
Here, Keret is referring to what he termed “the shrine of form” in an interview with his great admirer, broadcaster Ira Glass, but his content is similarly unfettered. If your writing’s become bogged down by reality, try introducing a magic fish who’s fluent in everything, as in “What, of This Goldfish, Would You Wish?,” read by author Gary Shteyngart, below.
7. Write like yourself.
Leave the critics holding the bag on comparisons to Franz Kafka, Kurt Vonnegut and Woody Allen, Lydia Davis, Amos Oz, Donald Barthelme…
8. Make sure you’re all alone in the room when you write.
um…Etgar? Does this mean I have to give up my coffice?
9. Let people who like what you write encourage you.
10. Hear what everyone has to say but don’t listen to anyone (except me).
Read the Rookie interview in which Keret expands on his rules.