My ten rules for writing.
1) Let it suck.
This is rule #1 for a reason. When you write, if you’re obsessed that everything that you put down on the page is perfect, you’ll never finish anything. Let it suck, especially that first draft. You can’t fix what ain’t there. Plow through.
I’m not saying write your story into a plot hole, I’m saying it’s okay for a scene to be boring, or for the dialogue to be stiff, or a whole slew of other issues. In my first published book, Vision of Shadows, I had a scene where my protagonist Bristol had a talk with her Grandpa about the history of their family. It was an important scene, but it was two people sitting on a porch, gabbing. It felt dry. I almost stopped writing it, but I adhered to my rule.
Then I revised it. I remembered, ‘Hey, Bristol is a psychic. She’s always got ghosts hanging around, and I have this dearly departed soul who plays a big part later on. Put him in now, where she can see and hear him, but grouchy old grandpa can’t. It made a dry scene flow.
2) Own your book.
It’s your story. Do what you want. If you wrote a story, and you crafted it to follow the same path as Harry Potter, or something from Stephen King or Nora Roberts, you’d be ripping them off. If you decide to do the opposite of what JK Rowling did, you’re still letting your story be dictated by someone else. Write the story you want to write. We all have influences. In music, we love to hear hints of different musical styles. Same with books.
3) There is only one way to plot out, structure, and write a novel. Whatever way that works.
I’m going to go back to the music analogy again. Some musicians write the music parts first, then sit down and write the lyrics. Other’s write lyrics first, wanting the song to tell a story, and add the music to fit. Some write it together. There are songs where the artist took the verses of one song, the chorus of another, and the guitar riff off of a third, all songs they never thought were great, but loved those parts. The listener may never know this and most likely won’t care. What they care about is the song they hear. The end result. Do they like it.
Some people plot their novels out in such details that they can write the chapters out of order. Other’s have no idea what they’re going to write until they write it. While many find someplace in-between. There’s no one way to do it. And there’s no rule that you can’t do it one way for book one, and another way for book two. What matters is the end product.
4) Writers are readers.
You need to have a love for stories. Again, back to music. I don’t know of any great musician that doesn’t love to listen to music. And just because you play in a band like KISS, doesn’t mean you can’t listen to Brad Paisley or Barry Manilow. (3 of my favorites.) That’s not to say you have to read every book out there. But the more you read, the more you absorb. Different styles, techniques for dialogue, world building, descriptions of characters, building tension, and other aspects. You learn, your grow. So keep reading. Besides, it’s fun.
5) Criticism is our friend.
When it’s done right, of course. We need feedback. Find a critique partner or group. Have someone read your work. Form a group if you have to. Listen to what they say. Be wary of those who just look to criticize you, cause they’re out there, but mostly writers love to help. If you join a critique group, and you spend the entire time explaining why you used that same word, over and over again, and how this conversation about a character that has no role in the story should be there because you want it, maybe it’s time to reexamine it. Take all criticism you and your story receive with a grain of salt. Other authors might make suggestions on how they might do something. Consider, but you’re not obligated. But if you keep hearing that they don’t understand what you’re saying, it might be time to revise.
Listen to your editor. There are times when you have a vision, and you want to make your case, but an editor is doing a job. And that’s to give you a sellable, readable book. Pick your battles.
6) Interact with other authors.
I know some of you are shy or really can't bring yourself to say hello. Some like to keep to yourself. Some may have challenges that a guy like me can’t understand. So my saying this may be far easier than you doing it, so don't feel bad if you can't. However, try to interact with other writers. It inspires and you learn from them. You can cheer them on, and console when they get rejected. Most of us have similar stories, and have faces the same fears, the same doubts. Generally speaking, we’re a fun bunch and we want to be there for you. So, try and become a part of the community. Be a lurker if that’s all you can handle. Maybe you need to work up to it. We’re not going anywhere.
7) Don’t feed the trolls
This is more of a social media thing, but it definitely applies to writers. There will be people out there who derive pleasure in embarrassing and harassing you. You’ll always run into that one person who deems it their place to spread negativity, and they often target those who just want to pass along a little positively. You won’t be able to avoid them all. Feel free on social media to hit the block button. Never feel bad about looking out for your own mental health. They’re not worth it. You are.
8) Don’t be a troll
On the flip side, if you’re critiquing someone’s work, always try and find something positive. They poured their heart and soul into their work. Maybe it’s not anywhere near ready for publication, but find a nice way to telling them that. If you’re interacting with other writers on social media, remember you don’t know what challenges that person faces behind their keyboard. A little kindness can go a long way. Unfortunately, meanness, vileness and malice can go just as far, if not farther. Don’t be that guy. The one who has to try a ruin someone else’s joy, or relishes getting a rise out of people. The one who makes themselves feel powerful but making other’s feel lesser. By nature, most creative types, including writers, are a sensitive bunch. Maybe you’re not. That’s fine. Don’t be the one who makes someone else feel like nothing. You may not want to live with the results.
9) The are rules to writing, including writing certain genres. Know them.
In a romance, there are a lot of rules. The couple needs to meet fairly early. They need to have a Happily Ever After ending, or at least a Happily For Now. There are different rules for each genre. Readers expect these things when they read that kind of book. Understand them. Respect them. And if you feel you need to, break them. Maybe your book isn’t a romance, but a woman’s fiction, or a love story, or a suspense with romantic elements. That’s something that can be figured out later. Other rules exist. Head hoping. (Pick a point of view in a scene and stick to it.) Tense. Show, not tell. It’s one thing to break a rule on purpose, as an artistic choice. It’s another to pretend they don’t exist. Know the difference. No rule is absolute. Heck, one amazing book I read, American Psycho, had the narrator going from 3rd person to 1st in the middle of a chapter. Happened later again. He spends pages talking about irrelevant information. But then again, the narrator was a psycho, so it all made sense.
10) The most important rule to remember. Your own.
Again, this is your story. Tell it. The way you want to. Don’t let someone come in, even someone with the best of intentions, and tell you vampires don’t sparkle, or an independently published book about an astronaut stranded on Mars will never be made into a movie. Don’t read a list of rules, even this list put out with the best of intentions, be your bible, or what keeps you from writing. Most likely, you’ve never heard of me, so why assume I’m all knowing, all seeing, and what I say has to be. Take what you like and leave the rest. And guess what? The same goes for Dan Brown, Stephen King, Nora Roberts, or JK Rowling. They didn’t let others tell them exactly how to write, and neither should you. Sure, it makes sense to pay attention to someone who is a best seller, but you do you. Because just maybe you’ve got a rule or two that can teach someone something they didn’t think of before.
There you have it. My top ten rules. Do with them as you see fit. Print them out and paste them by your workstation. Or use them to line the bottom of a birdcage. Doesn’t matter. These are my top ten rules.
So, what are yours?