A couple of days ago, I linked to the Ten Rules for Writers in the Books section of the Guardian. They’re fun to read, completely contradictory, and simultaneously wonderful and irrelevant. (Wanna make a sour face over them? Head over to the Globe and Mail.)
But why should those writers have all the fun (just because they’re all incredibly successful)? I can write a contradictory list of rules for writers, and so can you. So, I’m going to whip up ten useful and useless “rules” that work for me (except when they don’t) and I recommend everyone do the same.
(It’s a meme!)
By the way, I’m using second person in these rules, but the “you” I’m addressing is the confused-looking guy in the mirror, not any of my readers.
1- You can’t “find” time to write; you can only steal it. In short, you have to give something up. If you find you can’t give anything up to make time for your book, good for you! Your life is too awesome to be wasted writing books.
2- People are more interesting than monsters. Sometimes the person is monster-shaped and sometimes the monster is person-shaped, but the rule holds.
3- No rituals. Try to avoid having any habits you associate closely with writing. If conditions change and you have to drop the habit–even if it’s something as innocuous as “play quiet music”–you may find it hard to put words on the page.
4- Blame yourself. If you get a rejection, always assume it’s because of something in your writing, even if it’s not objectively true. The person who takes the blame is the person who has authority and responsibility, and when it comes to writing, that should be the writer. Blaming others gives away your power.
5- Don’t cheat the concept. If the reader is thinking “Oh my God, is he going to go there?” The answer should be “Yes! He went there!” Don’t shy away from uncomfortable implications of your concept.
6- Cheat the concept sometimes. Don’t be an asshole about rule 5. If “going there” means being lurid, tedious, cliche, or repulsive, figure out a better way.
7- Text is very linear and artificial. Use that to your advantage.
8- Never put the word “into” immediately after the word “and” except in the dialog of an annoying character.
9- Talent is accuracy. In writing, talent is accurately predicting what effect a particular string of words is likely to have on a reader. The more rare the string of words, or the more rare and powerful the effect, the more talent the writer will be thought to have. And yeah, by my definition, it’s the reader who determines whether a writer has talent, and the thing people call talent can be learned. (Isn’t that good news?)
10- If you feel mildly bored with a scene you’re writing, stop working and go do something you hate as punishment. The only real “rule” in writing is Be interesting. All the rest are tools to be used or discarded as needed. (Tools, not rules!)
So, write and post your own ten rules. Why not? They don’t have to be useful to anyone except you.
4 thoughts on “Ten writing rules not published in the Guardian”
Hello Mr. Connolly:
I just wanted to tell you that I am a big fan of Child of Fire. Ray Lilly is a great character. I read the whole thing is less than a week and I hope to see a follow-up.
I would like to know if you would be willing to sign my copy? I would of course pay for the shipping back and fourth.
Thank you in advance for your time.
Stacey, thank you for the note! Please do send me an email at harryconnolly at sff dot net and I’ll send you an address to mail the book.
Thanks for the writing tips. These are better than most in the Guardian post. I think the basics like making the time to write and dealing with rejection are but distant memories to most of the pros they asked to participate, though still some good tips there too.
I’ve been a terrible lurker on your blog and decided to finally introduce myself. Child of Fire was great, and I’m looking forward to Game of Cages.
Thank you! I hope you enjoy it.
I liked the lists on the Guardian site, even the ones that were obviously jokes. Margaret Atwood must have answered questions like this so many times that she can’t keep a straight face with her “bring a second pencil” stuff. And I love that.
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