My 7 Rules for Writing

I finished writing and editing my third full-length novel this weekend, so it may well be time to throw my hat in the ring as regards a set of rules for writing. 

In the last three years I've written and polished hundreds of thousands of words of fiction in novels, novellas, short stories, and poems; so I feel comfortable offering my rules for writing ... that is not to say that they'll work for you, but they have, and continue to work for me (so read on, or click elsewhere). 

W. Somerset Maugham was at once right and wrong, joking and serious, in his assertion ... nevertheless, there are many lists of rules that have worked for great writers, and over the years I've come up with a similar set that seem to work for me.

As the pirate said ... take anybody's rules, including (especially?) mine with as much salt as you feel will help your writing.

Rule #1: Read lots of great stuff

The biggest contributor to my being a writer is a lifetime of reading. I have always read anything that grabbed my eye, and make a point of reading everyday (I think this is more important than writing everyday). Fill your brain with great books and articles and novellas and poems and textbooks.

Rule #2: Write the kind of stories that you want to read

If you can picture yourself as a willing and enthusiastic audience for the stories you're writing, you're halfway to success (well, not really halfway, but it's a good start). Assuming that you're a lifelong and voracious and discriminating reader (see Rule#1, above), you'll have a good target audience.

Rule #3: Write fast, edit slow

I'm a big believer in writing a first draft as fast as you can, without worrying about getting it right the first time through. The first draft is telling the story to yourself (and your first reader). There will be plenty of time to take plenty of time when you are fixing and polishing the story in later drafts, but the first draft is a good place to hurry.

Rule #4: Keep your dialogue simple & direct & spare

What the characters are saying should carry the dialogue in your writing, not how the writer says it ... to that end, you should generally use 'said' when characters said something, and try not to modify 'said' with an adverb describing how they said something (let what they said speak for itself).

Rule #5: When in doubt, use less description

I think nothing bogs a good (or even a great) story down like too much detail. It's important for you, as the writer, to know everything about the scene, setting, and every single character in the story ... but it's your job not to burden readers with all of those details; only the ones absolutely needed to advance the story.

Rule #6: Trust your beta reader ... and yourself

When the first draft is finished, give it to someone you respect and trust (and think is at least as smart as you are) to read. They'll be able to see through the crapiness of your rough work to the framework/skeleton of your story. Trust them to know what works and what doesn't, what you need to expand and prune and move/graft; just don't trust them to know how to fix it ... that's your job, and is author-magic.

Rule #7: Work hard at writing, but know when to walk away from the table

Writing fiction is hard work ... anyone who tells you otherwise is promoting their course or book or simply hasn't done it. The way you become a better writer is to write and write and write. The flip side of that is knowing, as a writer, when you are heading towards burnout and brain-melt ... that's the time to take the dogs for a walk, watch a movie with your kid, start a new book/article, or go camping for a couple of days.

Bonus Material!!!
Rule #8: Start, keep writing, and finish your writing

Rule #8 is a combination of the previous seven rules, but is worth mentioning anyway ....

My rules for writing can help you produce a great book, but only if you start, keep writing, and push through to finish your book.

You have to be willing to take a chance on making a fool of yourself, writing crap, and disappointing your mom ... if you can live with those things, and just keep putting one word after another, you'll eventually get to:


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