[process] Rules of Writing (meme)

Because all the cool kids are doing it.

I only have one rule of writing. Everything else is a guideline. Sort of like the Pirate Code.

  1. Write more.

Which is to say, whatever you’re doing, do more of it.

I do have several strong guidelines.

  • Write something every week. (A story, a chapter, something discrete and measurable.)
  • Finish everything you start. (I suspect more nascent careers fail here than anywhere else. How many unfinished stories and novels do you have? If you don’t finish it, you can’t revise, market and sell it. Period.)
  • Don’t self-critique while you’re writing. (For a lot of folks, this may be the root cause of the previous issue. It doesn’t matter if the piece is crap. You’re probably wrong, as the writer is the worst judge of their own work. And besides, you can always revise.)
  • Work on one thing at a time. (In my case, a novel, a short story, a collab and a nonfiction project can all run in parallel. But if I work on two of the same thing, the voice bleeds over and I lose track of continuity.)

That’s all I got. What would you add?

9 thoughts on “[process] Rules of Writing (meme)

  1. Joy R says:

    A rule I had to adopt after reading Elmore Leonard’s list was something on the order of “Don’t let other writer’s rules keep me from writing”. I’m hypersensitive at times…

  2. JulieB says:

    What Joy R said!

  3. “Work on one thing at a time” really resonates with me. I tried working on two short stories simultaneously and transposed a character’s voice across, to the point where a teenage wizard’s apprentice started talking like a gruff redcap. Oops.

    I think this relates to finishing as well. Too much going on at once = too little being completed. I now write with a dump file open so that if a new idea or thought unrelated to what I am working on pops up I can get it out and then get back to what needs completion.

    I still find that the best piece of advice for writing comes from Joe Lansdale: put your ass in the chair and write. Your own rules will evolve as you create.

  4. cate says:

    Bullets 2 and 3 trip me up a lot. Actually, 3 leads to 2. I start out with a story idea that excites me, and then as I start working on it, doubt creeps in about how I’m going to solve this or that plot problem or where in the world am I going to research this thing I’m not familiar with but want to include in the story or this has probably been written before or it’s probably a silly story idea that no one will want to read, and that makes it really hard to finish it when I’ve lost steam and faith in it.

    1. Jay says:

      Which is precisely why I’ve often blogged about psychotic persistence as a predictor of success… 🙂

      1. Yep, drive and discipline are all good, but thick-headed tenacity really wins the day :-).

        Habit and ritual are important too. Look at John Cheever, who would put on a suit, go down to his basement office for the day and write, then go back up to his home at the end of the “workday.” I’m not sure that exact method is realistic nowadays, but establishing a rhythm, as much as you can anyway, seems pretty important.

  5. Jaws says:

    My dubious contribution (I’m primarily a nonfiction writer… except during tax season, of course…):

    Read. Voraciously. Continuously. Good and bad (and learn to tell the difference). Old and new (and learn to tell the difference). Fiction and nonfiction (and learn to tell the difference — and when there isn’t one: One of the writers quoted in this article on rules for writers is Jonathan Franzen…). Short works and serial novels and everything in-between. You’ll never be able to read everything; you won’t even be able to read everything relevant to the particular project(s) you’re working on; but — unlike, say, three of the individuals quoted in the article, who are all notorious for slumming in “genre fiction” without knowing what that “genre” is — reading what is out there is the only opportunity you have to limit the mistakes you’ll make writing to your own mistakes, instead of endlessly repeating the avoidable mistakes others have made.

  6. Mike says:

    Can’t remember where I saw it offhand, but the rule, give yourself permission to write crap, has been helpful to me. (Probably apropos of your guideline two, which I can’t seem to follow.)

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