12.5 Rules of Writing

I found the following rules over on E. L. Taylor III’s blog:

1. As I have mentioned here before, there’s an axiom that every writer has a million words of crap in them. Even if you feel like you’re writing crap, you are accomplishing something: you’re getting the crap out. So yes, write every day, even if it sucks and you end up throwing it out. It is still beneficial.

2. This is related to another axiom: write what you’d like to read. That sounds logical, but some people get caught up in writing for profit and writing what people think they people want to hear. When I decided to try my hand at writing historical romance, I was confronted with the dilemma of whether to word it the way that I thought romances were worded (i.e. “cheesy”), but I decided not to go there. It’s not natural for me to write in that style, and it’s not what I like to read. Time will show if it sells well, but my pre-readers–including my husband–liked the initial draft and, in fact, wanted to see more. So stick with what you know and what you like and you will probably do well. At the very least, you won’t be ashamed of anything you’ve written.

3. I’m not too much on routines–never have been–but I will agree that setting goals/deadlines is important to keeping yourself moving in a forward direction. Once I set a publication date on my book, it necessitated that I word on my final proofreading edits every day (I usually do a little every morning, before I go to work).

4. I suppose it doesn’t have to rhyme, although I do prefer when it does.

5. Stereotypes/caricatures do get boring. Also, be careful that you’re not doing the same thing over and over again. My husband said he used to read science-fiction, until he started to notice that the characters and plots were all very similar. This can be a problem when you’re writing in a genre–be it fantasy, sci-fi, western, or romance. There’s only so many times the shy virgin can be ravished to her rapturous delight before people start to say, “This has been done to death.” So not only avoid stereotypical characters, but also avoid the stereotypes of your genre.

6. I’ve trumpeted this rule before, too. Reading will help you improve your grammar and build your vocabulary. Reading will give you ideas for your own stories. Reading critically–especially in your own genre–will also show you what you should and should not do to your own stories.

7. I don’t see much use in this, however, I would encourage people to make a list of names that they find interesting; then you never lack for a name for a character. Also, I’ve seen it recommended that you compile information on other things you find interesting–a job or a city or pictures of people who interest you–so that you can use that later in your writing. In short, be constantly researching and compile a database of names and faces and jobs and locations so that you can plop a plot down in the middle of it and call it amore.

8. This seems to be true of modern fiction (“literature” or non-genre fiction), but I think it’s probably less true of genres. Romances are expected to have a happy ending and I think sci-fi and fantasy books are expected to have either a cautionary element or an old-fashioned good-versus-evil plot. My own trilogy has a moral: destroy evil when you have the opportunity, or it will come back to destroy you one day. So no, not all fiction requires a moral, but be sure you have one when the genre demands it, or you’ll wind up disappointing everyone.

9. I have to agree with this, because I know if I don’t write something down immediately, I’ll forget it. When I’ve gotten good ideas in the car, I’ve written on the backs of scrap paper and envelopes, just to keep from losing some good idea. So put a small notebook and pencil (no fear that it will die) in your car and keep one beside your bed for those end-of-the-day thoughts. (You might also have a dim reading light or nightlight that you can turn on so you can see to write without completely waking your brain–or partner–up by using a bright light.)

10. This is something I’ve recommended before to people suffering from writer’s block with a story. Start a fresh document and write about your character having an average day. Write about them before the story starts, after it’s done, or on one of the boring days in the middle where nothing exciting is happening–you know, all that time that occurs between important plot points. Make them do the laundry, cook dinner, groom their horse, read a magazine while having a bowel movement–everyday, normal stuff. Why? Because real people do these things, and if you want your character to seem real, you’ll know what they’re doing when they’re not having an exciting life. This can often trigger an idea for some new, exciting plot twist, but at the very least, once you learn what your characters do and don’t like doing, you can sprinkle references to that throughout your book and make your character seem that much more real. And don’t worry about having to throw away this boring chapter; it’s been valuable to you, even if it doesn’t end up in your book (see #1 above).

11. I decided to write a historical romance because I thought it would be easier to get my first book published in that genre. The surprising thing was that I actually enjoyed writing it and I came out with a story that I really like. It inspired me to consider writing possibilities in all genres. I also wrote it from the POV of a man–not something I do often. Another way to break out of a rut is to switch from third person to first person or active tense versus past tense.

12. Even if you want to stay in the POV of a single character all the time (almost a requirement if you’re writing from first person), write a throwaway chapter (or three) where you tell the story from the POV of another character. Again, this is a good way to get over writer’s block, plus it makes your non-primary characters more believable.

12.5. What are you waiting for?

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3 comments on “12.5 Rules of Writing

  1. Trey Taylor says:

    Thanks for the mention Keri,it’s most appreciated love!

  2. skfigler says:

    Keri,
    I’m sort of an anti-rule writer, because (1) every rule can be broken and still yield good work (+ success) and (2) if we counted up all the rules of writing recommended by all writers and teachers/mentors of writing, the total would be (as of 12:44am, 6/21/12) 4,763,912…and counting.

    The only bit of writing wisdom I recommend is the following: “There are only three rules of writing; unfortunately, nobody knows what they are.” (Attributed to Poe, Mencken, and others.)

    Having said the above, I still find some interesting and helpful “suggestions” among your 12.5 “rules,” though I would characterize Rule #1 more as practice writing than crap writing.

    SKFigler.com (my writer blog)

    • Keri Peardon says:

      Normally I don’t adhere too much to rules either (except Oxford commas), because they’re so often contradictory and they rarely apply across more than one genre (and often don’t apply to everything within it). But I think some “rules” can be helpful, like you need to practice writing, and try mixing it up. In fact, a lot of the above rules are less what I do regularly, and more what I do when I’m feeling blocked or uninspired. I think there’s a lot there to help through the hard times (although they may not be necessary at all during the easy times).

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