Every author has their favorite rules or ways of writing. Our work can benefit from learning their process. In the same way it’s accepted painters learn from the masters , writers too can learn from other writers. ( I wrote in more detail about this in the post An Infinite Authors Resource .) The writer doesn’t have to be your favorite, but their work must be relevant. When you’re having trouble with a piece of work – your blog, fiction or non-fiction – don’t reinvent the wheel or plagiarize, but look at how someone else tackled the problem. For issues on social media, the internet or websites, I’d go to Sherryl Perry or Leora Wenger . If you want a slow build up of fear try Helen Dunmore‘s ‘The Betrayal‘. For a more ‘in your face’ scary scene maybe go to Stephen King.
Margaret Atwood’s 10 Rules for Writing Fiction
1 Take a pencil to write with on aeroplanes. Pens leak. But if the pencil breaks, you can’t sharpen it on the plane, because you can’t take knives with you. Therefore: take two pencils.
2 If both pencils break, you can do a rough sharpening job with a nail file of the metal or glass type.
3 Take something to write on. Paper is good. In a pinch, pieces of wood or your arm will do.
4 If you’re using a computer, always safeguard new text with a memory stick.
5 Do back exercises. Pain is distracting.
6 Hold the reader’s attention. (This is likely to work better if you can hold your own.) But you don’t know who the reader is, so it’s like shooting fish with a slingshot in the dark. What fascinates A will bore the pants off B.
7 You most likely need a thesaurus, a rudimentary grammar book, and a grip on reality. This latter means: there’s no free lunch. Writing is work. It’s also gambling. You don’t get a pension plan. Other people can help you a bit, but ¬essentially you’re on your own. Nobody is making you do this: you chose it, so don’t whine.
8 You can never read your own book with the innocent anticipation that comes with that first delicious page of a new book, because you wrote the thing. You’ve been backstage. You’ve seen how the rabbits were smuggled into the hat. Therefore ask a reading friend or two to look at it before you give it to anyone in the publishing business. This friend should not be someone with whom you have a romantic relationship, unless you want to break up.
9 Don’t sit down in the middle of the woods. If you’re lost in the plot or blocked, retrace your steps to where you went wrong. Then take the other road. And/or change the person. Change the tense. Change the opening page.
10 Prayer might work. Or reading something else. Or a constant visualization of the holy grail that is the finished, published version of your resplendent book.
NB: Margaret Atwood’s rules for writing fiction, originally appeared as part of a feature in The Guardian . I’d like to give a special thanks to Robert Bruce of http://101books.net/ ( a fantastic site for book-lovers), who reminded me of her list in a recent post he did on Steinbeck.
I really love her dry sense of humor and sticking with the basics, like using a pencil, or your arm! The rules could also apply to virtually any kind of writing.
A.K. Andrew’s Top 3 Writing Rules :
1. Write little and often. (Whatever interpretation works for you)
2. Always carry a notebook (paper or electronic). Odd words or thoughts come at any time day or night and trying to rely on your memory to recall them is hopeless. I’ve learned how to write small groups of words in the dark, then decipher them in the morning.
3. Write what you enjoy. If you’re not enjoying the process, your reader will never be engaged.
What are your top 3 writing Rules? (See I’ve made it easy for you too!)
I’d love to hear your thoughts – and perhaps between us, we can come up with a really great new list of 10 Writing Rules.
Note: This will be my last post for a month, so enjoy the end of summer and I’ll see you back here near the end of September.
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