Sunday 20 April 2014

My Ten Rules of Writing

Everyone else seems to do this so I thought I’d better do it too. I wonder, though whether this changes from day to day and I’d imagine it certainly would over a period of time. I wonder also whether one or two items are actually constants. Here’s today’s list of ten, anyway.    

1.      Write every day

Yes, write absolutely every day. To me writing is like cleaning your teeth – I feel uncomfortable if I don’t do it. I actually have a two hour rule – write at least two hours a day. It used to be one hour and / or 1,000 words. I upped it to two hours and 2,000 words when I got a contract for a non-fiction book. 
I started the one hour / 1,000 words when I still had a demanding day job and two teenage children. I managed it somehow. I’d say to those even busier – start really small. Maybe ten minutes a day. You’re less likely to talk yourself out of it as you’re more likely to find the ten minutes. More often than not you’ll manage more.
And every day means every day. Today is Sunday and I’m on holiday in Scotland.   

2.      Don’t beat yourself up because you can’t manage it one day

Life happens. I have a day job – one that is very apt for a writer and keeps me in contact with writing. Sometimes, however, the demands of that day job are such that I don’t get time for my writing. I don’t fret if there is day on which I really cannot write. I know I’ll be able to again soon.  There is no question of not being able to.

3.      Don’t wait for inspiration

Because it probably won’t come. It doesn’t usually come, anyway, when I’m sat at my desk. That is really an info dump.  I’ve done all of the thinking elsewhere and else when. It’s surprising, though, what does start happening as you hit the keys. Other ideas creep in round the edges.
And even on days when I think I’ve got absolutely nothing to say, I just start typing and out comes the story.  

4.      Writing is mainly rewriting

Such a cliché but it’s so true. What takes me three months to write takes me up to eighteen months to edit.  

5.      Write what you know

Yet I write fantasy, science fiction and historical fiction. However, I would still say I am writing what I know. I submerge myself into the scenes I am creating. I become at one with them. It almost becomes a form of method acting. I am writing from what I know, from what I am when I confront the monster, when I visit another world and when I’m in Nazi Germany.

6.      You never finish, you just abandon

There comes a time when you have to meet the deadline, when you have to send your work out into the world, when it has to become public. If you had more time you would write it even better. We are perfectionist and we never achieve perfection. Thankfully we continue to improve. Be pleased that all of your work leads to your best work. Treat earlier works kindly.

7.      Write what you love

Write what you are passionate about. Take care not to become a disillusioned jobbing writer. If you don’t like the compromise the market forces on you, then earn your daily bread another way. Don’t compromise, anyway. Find a third way that suits both you and the market.

8.      Don’t ever give up

You can make it as a writer if you really want to. It’s a big “if”, however. You’ll have to face rejection, self-doubt and even disappointing reviews once you are published. Keep faith with yourself.

9.      Take the time to do nothing

You can’t give and give and give. You need to nourish your own soul. You need some experiences to feed your writing. Take a stroll in the park, walk through a colourful market or sip a hot drink in crowded café.

10.  Read, read, read

You’ve probably picked up most of your writing skills by a form of osmosis from reading. Now that your inner editor has developed you’ll probably not enjoy reading quite the same way you used to.  You’ll notice the misplaced apostrophe, the clunky sentence and the strained dialogue but you’ll also notice the well-drawn character, the strong sense of time and place and the tightly written prose. Whether you label what you read as good or as bad writing you will still learn from it.