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Everyone's doing it!

At least it seems like ever since the Guardian Book blog ran a post listing rules for writing, everyone is posting their own list. The Guardian even copied itself by running a part 2 with more writers' rules. You can tell Hillary Mantel has hit the big time; she starts by saying you should hire an accountant.

It's become "the writing rules meme"! Although I appreciate pbray's take on it, I never let a lack of chutzpah hold me back. Following the more traditional example example set by published writers like mindyklasky (read her list, too!), I hereby present my 10 rules for writers. A lot my rules relate to the logistics of writing while still earning a living doing something else, because that's what I know.

Newton's Rules for Aspiring Writers (the name Newton comes in handy when pontificating)
1. Figure out whether you are an outliner or a seat-of-the-panster. Some folks do one, some the other and others switch hit, book to book. There is no one right way, but figure out which works best for you.

2. Determine your minimum writing block and plan your time accordingly. Some folks can't write unless they have a full three hours. Other writers can get productive work done in 20 minute chunks.

3. Back up your work. If you're half way through your first book and haven't even printed it yet, losing your hard drive could depress you enough to make you stop writing altogether. Always make sure your files are on more than one drive!

4. Figure out what your distractions are and do your best to avoid them. It might be TV and it might be browsing the web, or it might be that pesky earning a living thing. Obviously, you have to earn a living, but no one ever died from a lack of TV; give yourself an hour per week limit and choose your shows wisely.

5. Even if you're a pantser, be organized about writing. Make notes as you think of things, keep a to-do list for revisions, keep old versions of files if you're making changes your not sure of. A time line file and a character file are good ways to be sure you are consistent about the sequence of events and characters (names, relationships, appearance, etc.)

6. Get feedback! It can be a few beta readers or a formal critique group or an online group but get someone who knows something about writing to look at your work and give you honest feedback. Give yourself a while to get over the initial shock that your story isn't perfect and consider their feedback as objectively as you can. When in doubt, see rule #5 about versions of files.

7. Read your work aloud. Aside from being good practice in general, this is a great way to recognize when you are overusing words or phrases.

8. Proof on paper. Some things just don't show up on a monitor.

9. In general, it's best to finish what you start. But if you get halfway into a book and realize you really don't have any idea where you want to take the story, put it aside and start something else. That said, if you find that you never finish anything, go back to rule 1 and see if maybe you need to try the opposite approach.

10. Learn from other writers. Once you start writing, you will find that it's hard to turn off your Inner Critiquer, even when you're reading a book for pleasure. When a story does make your IC shut up, go back and read the story a second time, assessing how the author did what he/she did: What's the plot catalyst and how is it introduced? How are the characters portrayed (through dialog, actions. reactions, what?). When does the climax occur? How active is the protagonist? etc. etc. etc.

What would you add? Or, if you're read any really good rules on other folks' list, what are they? If you posted your own rules, feel free to link to them in a comment. I'm always open to learning more about writers and writing.

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( 14 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 3rd, 2010 01:15 am (UTC)
8. Proof on paper. Some things just don't show up on a monitor.

So sayeth the eBook reader.... ;-)
Mar. 3rd, 2010 03:37 am (UTC)
they call it e-paper for a reason. I can actually see mistakes better on my Kindle than on my laptop screen. But I confess I don't like the Kindle's notation feature as well as marking up paper copy, especially for any complicated changes. It's fine for stuff you read but not great for stuff you're writing.

I sometimes send my Word files to the Kindle so it can do the reading aloud part. It's good for spotting mistakes, but I have to keep the Word file open to correct it anyway.
Mar. 3rd, 2010 04:15 am (UTC)
So you've got the vocal edition of the Kindle? Doesn't it mutilate some words?
Mar. 3rd, 2010 01:11 pm (UTC)
It has a hard time with unusual names, but it does surprisingly well with made-up fantasy words, so long as they have enough vowels and are easily pronounceable. It certainly sounds more "human" than say, my dad's GPS, which, aside from being mechanical-sounding has a terrible time with Spanish names. He lives in Mexico! It calls Chapala Street "CHAP-ah-la" instead of "Cha-PAH-la."

I also like that I can chose a male or female voice on the Kindle as well as set the speed, and it turns the pages to keep my place in the book! I have heard of folks who work out propping the Kindle up on the treadmill, turning on text-to-speech but turning down the sound, and letting the Kindle turn the pages for them.
Mar. 3rd, 2010 01:58 am (UTC)
Your rules aren't too different from mine. I guess great minds think alike, right?

Here are mine: http://www.ianthealy.com/main/node/93

Mar. 3rd, 2010 03:38 am (UTC)
Yeah, we do! Except I refer to beta readers where you talk about building a harem. -)

But we both know the importance of backing up files.
Mar. 3rd, 2010 03:22 am (UTC)
Writing rule #11: Always make sure to leave a plate of cookies for the little imps who live inside your monitor; the ones who put all those red underline things in your text to show you when you've misspelled a word. If you forget, the red lines multiply!

Great list! Thanks!
Mar. 3rd, 2010 03:40 am (UTC)
You're welcome! I suspect if you put all the lists together and suppressed the conceptual duplicates, there would probably be about 50-60 rules.
Mar. 3rd, 2010 04:30 am (UTC)
Great list. If I actually made a list, it would be the same as yours. You didn't steal it from my brain did you? :)

I would have one addition: Write what you want to read.
Mar. 3rd, 2010 12:59 pm (UTC)
I agree, totally! Maybe we're twins separated at birth? -)
Mar. 3rd, 2010 12:58 pm (UTC)
I'm enjoying reading all these lists.

Thanks for sharing :)
Mar. 3rd, 2010 01:01 pm (UTC)
One reason I did one was to see if I could come up with something not covered on other lists. There's always bound to be overlap. Except for the accountant thing. Hilary Mantel was the only writer I saw who mentioned that one.
Mar. 5th, 2010 03:48 pm (UTC)
Hullo. Here via Jon.

Perhaps as an addendum to rule 7 - ask someone else to read it aloud, especially bits that become linguistically complex, or that you are particularly proud of because they are very, very clever. You might know exactly how it is supposed to read and adjust your voice to fit. Your reader doesn't know how you meant it, only how it actually reads.
Mar. 5th, 2010 05:09 pm (UTC)
I like it! Here is where the Kindle comes in handy. It never tells me it's too busy!

Edited at 2010-03-05 05:30 pm (UTC)
( 14 comments — Leave a comment )

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