GWBA: When Vonnegut’s Rules Go Bad: pt 1

GOOD WRITING, BAD ADVICE: An occasional series from a professional on writing, being a writer and how to be better at both. The aim is to promote good writing and debunk bad advice. There’s a lot of bad advice out there, so this could be a long series.


There’s a lot of advice out there for writers. Do I intend to add to the enormous didactic dump-bin? You bet I do. As someone who earns a living from writing books and advising others on their works in progress, I’m a little disturbed by the quality of some of the advice that’s floating around out there, much of it coming from people who ought to know better. It’s hard enough to develop oneself as a writer, without wasting time being guided by bad rules and principles.

I’m beginning this occasional series with massive chutzpah, by taking on a literary colossus who has become a giant in the world of writing advice. Kurt Vonnegut was fond of giving out advice to budding writers. He published his opinions in the form of at least two lists of “rules” for good writing: his “Creative Writing 101” (which was part of the Introduction to his book of short stories Bagombo Snuff Box) and a more serious magazine article, “How to Write With Style”.

"A Genius Bar for Books": interview

So this week I did an interview for the Andrew Lownie Literary Agency. It went like this...

“A Genius Bar for Books” – interview with Jeremy Dronfield, author, ghostwriter, book consultant

You’ve had an unusual career trajectory, going from fiction to non-fiction and ghostwriting. How did that come about?

Being a writer isn’t what it used to be. The joy of creation may be timeless, but the way we research, write and sell books is changing constantly. At the same time, being a writer in the other sense – existing, earning a living from the written word – is changing too. Advances are declining in size and getting harder to come by, we have to work harder (and spend more) to do our own promotion, and sales are weakening as austerity infects the economy. Year after year, writers’ incomes are falling. Even with a bestseller or two under your belt you can find yourself struggling to make a living; luxury money one year followed by bread-crusts the next. Each of us has to have a strategy for survival. For some, branching out is the answer.

I began as an academic archaeologist. In search of a liveable income and hoping to realise a dream, I took up writing fiction (doesn’t sound like such a logical path these days, does it?). With the prolonged downturn in the book business, I eventually had to branch into manuscript reading, which led to consultancy and ghostwriting. Unexpectedly, I found a way of making my life as a writer sustainable. Because, somewhat to my surprise, it turned out that I was as good at reading as I was at writing...

Continue reading the interview at the Andrew Lownie Literary Agency website.

© Jeremy Dronfield 2017