March 2nd, 2010

Egyptian hieroglyphics

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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