10 Rules for Writers by Etgar Keret, the Israeli Master of the Short and Strange

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.

At the very least, be pre­pared to dig your­self out to a dif­fer­ent real­i­ty, like the nar­ra­tor in Keret’s very short sto­ry “Mys­tique,” read below by actor Willem Dafoe.

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.

Nerts to under­min­ers, fren­e­mies, with­er­ing inter­nal edi­tors, and delib­er­ate­ly hate­ful review­ers!

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.

via Rook­ie

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Stephen Kings’ Top 20 Rules for Writ­ers

Kurt Von­negut’s 8 Tips on How to Write a Good Short Sto­ry

Ray Brad­bury Gives 12 Piece of Writ­ing Advice to Young Authors (2001)

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday

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