Naipaul’s seven rules for aspiring writers

VS Naipaul advised aspiring writers to practise what he had learnt from his father, says Patrick French in his biography of Naipaul, The World Is What It Is. 

When the Indian website Tehelka asked Naipaul to suggest some rules for aspiring writers, this was the advice he gave:

  1. Do not write long sentences. A sentence should not have more than 10 or 12 words.
  2. Each sentence should make a clear statement. It should add to the statement that went before. A good paragraph is a series of clear, linked statements.
  3. Do not use big words. If your computer tells you that your average word is more than five letters long, there is something wrong. The use of small words compels you to think about what you are writing. Even difficult ideas can be broken down into small words.
  4. Never use words whose meaning you are not sure of. If you break this rule you should look for other work.
  5. The beginner should avoid using adjectives, except those of colour, size and number. Use as few adjectives as well.
  6. Avoid the abstract. Always go for the concrete.
  7. Every day, for six months at least, practise writing in this way. Small words; short, clear, concrete sentences. It may be awkward but it’s training you in the use of language. It may even be getting rid of the bad language habits you picked up at the university. You may go beyond these rules after you have thoroughly understood and mastered them.

Rules Naipaul picked up from his father

Naipaul was influenced by his father and his suggestions “owed much to (his) Pa’s instruction”, says French.

Seepersad Naipaul, who inspired his son to write A House For Mr Biswas, was a Trinidad journalist and writer himself. He had published Gurudeva and Other Indian Tales  at his own expense in Trinidad in 1943, when Naipaul was 11 years old. Naipaul thought highly of his father as a writer. French says:

His writing style formed early. At the age of only eleven, he was given his own private epic by his father, and took it as his model; his later achievement came out of this restriction.

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