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Some Writing Rules to Live By

Neil Gaiman Neil Gaiman

Mr. Gaiman is a novelist and screenwriter to name only two of his talents. Neil Gaiman’s work has received many awards internationally, including the Newbery and Carnegie Medals. His books and stories have also been honored with 4 Hugos, 2 Nebulas, 1 World Fantasy Award, 4 Bram Stoker Awards, 6 Locus Awards, 2 British Science Fiction Awards, 1 British Fantasy Award, 3 Geffens, 1 International Horror Guild Award and 2 Mythopoeic Awards.  His work is somewhat quirky and offbeat.  His children’s work is whimsical with a slight twist toward the stuff of childhood nightmares.

The following eight rules are his rules for writing.

1. Write.

2. Put one word after another. Find the right word, put it down.

3. Finish what you’re writing. Whatever you have to do to finish it, finish it.

4. Put it aside. Read it pretending you’ve never read it before. Show it to friends whose opinion you respect and who like the kind of thing that this is.

5. Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.

6. Fix it. Remember that, sooner or later, before it ever reaches perfection, you will have to let it go and move on and start to write the next thing. Perfection is like chasing the horizon. Keep moving.

7. Laugh at your own jokes.

8. The main rule of writing is that if you do it with enough assurance and confidence, you’re allowed to do whatever you like. (That may be a rule for life as well as for writing. But it’s definitely true for writing.) So write your story as it needs to be written. Write it ­honestly, and tell it as best you can. I’m not sure that there are any other rules. Not ones that matter.



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Practice, Practice, Practice

How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice.

When I first started writing I went to plenty of classes and conferences, hungry for every bit of knowledge that the pros had to offer.  I took copious notes, recorded the lectures as often as I could, and saved every handout I ever got.  In the end, that was all I had, notes, recordings and stacks of handouts.  My own writing had not improved.

I’ve since learned that no matter how much money you spend on conferences, books, classes and so on; there is only one true road to better writing–practice, practice, practice.

Just like the old joke about how to get to Carnegie Hall.  Practice is the key.  Read every book you want on the art and craft of writing.  Continue to go to conferences.  Attend lectures as often as you can, but the bottom line is write every day.

Here are a few suggestions to keep you writing every day even if your time is limited:

1.  Start a journal.  It’s not the same as a diary, you don’t have to write every detail of your day.  Use it to write insights and observations as they occur to you, story and character ideas, and settings.  Use the journal to pose the “What if” questions.

2.  Write a letter.  What kind of letter?  Any kind.  Write a letter to the editor on something you are passionate about.  Write a letter to a friend you haven’t written to in a long time.  Write a letter to a deceased loved one.  The type of letter you write is not as important as the writing itself.

3.  Find writing exercises.  There are many places on the internet where you can find these.  Some may seem silly, but as you experiment you will find that they inspire you.

4.  Contribute to a newsletter or start a newsletter, even if it’s just for your family.

5.  Try your hand at flash fiction.  And try the shortest form of flash fiction you can.  A story in six words or 100 words or less.  Make sure your story has a beginning, middle and end.  This teaches you to write tight.

6.  If you have a smart phone, search for writers apps for story starters and inspirations.

The more you write the more you learn to use an economy of words to express emotion, set a scene, or describe a character.  After a while, you’ll find that you are writing faster and better.

Take the challenge and see what happens.  You will be surprised.  Even the best writer will see improvement in their work.  A side benefit  is the confidence that comes with writing every day.  At your disposal you will find myriads of ideas you never thought you had to draw on when you come to the bane of every writer–the dreaded writer’s block.  It won’t happen, or at least not as often.  There will always be new ideas–new “What ifs”  to inspire you.

So, how do you get to be a better writer?  Practice, practice, practice.

What works best for you?

Suzanne Bogue

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The Muse Takes a Holiday

Some call it Writers’ Block. Others refer to it as a simple lack of inspiration. What happens when you just don’t know what happens next in your story? The words won’t come. At all. What is the author of the next Great American Novel to do?

Of course, there are lots of suggestions out there. Take a nap. Fold the laundry. Phone a friend. I’ll be the first to confess that most of these “tricks” are merely avoidance techniques. But why do I procrastinate with something that I love to do?

I’m certain that there is a deep psychological meaning behind it, but I refuse to research that right now, maybe it could be the subject of my next book.

In fact, research may be at the root of the blocked imagination. When I don’t know what should happen next, it’s often because I have no idea what would happen next. I haven’t researched that deeply into the technicalities or history of the subject. On the other hand, sometimes I find that I’ve researched so much that I don’t care anymore. Yes, it’s often the mystery that keeps me going.

If research isn’t the problem—if I just don’t know how my protagonist would respond in a particular situation—maybe I need to get to know him or her better. I could write a scene, completely separate from my story, in which my lead characters are all trapped in an elevator somewhere between floors of a Metropolitan high-rise. What do they say? How do they treat each other? What do they smell, see, or hear? Sometimes writing out these little vignettes can trigger something that will propel the stalled work-in-progress.

Another solution may be to skip to the next scene that I know, and write that. The idea is that having that next goal in sight may shed light on the path to get there. Or… it may not be that I have writers’ block at all, but that I’m trying to write too much. A minute-by-minute account of my hero may just be boring. Experiencing a stall may be an indication that I should skip that part. If the next scene makes sense without it, it’s highly likely that a reader would skip it, too. Leave it out. Write tight.

I hope that these suggestions help—I just thought of something…

Kimberly Black


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Finding Time To Write

Are you struggling to meet your writing goals?  Just can’t seem to find the time to put your thoughts on paper?  Is life interfering with your desire to write the next   breakout best-seller?  What should you do?

Every writer is different.  What works for one won’t necessarily work for another.  If you are a planner, perhaps what works for me will work for you.  Here’s how I do it.

I schedule my writing time; every bit of it.  I schedule my time throughout the week and on weekends.  I actually write down how many hours I plan to write each day and what I want to accomplish.  When I am actually working on a project, I strive for 30-40 hours per week writing.  That’s in addition to the 50 hours per week at my regular job. If that sounds like a lot, it is.  How do I do it?  I plan.  I make a plan and I stick to it.

How do I accomplish that?  First, I have a very supportive wife.  She knows how important my writing is to me and she wants me to be successful as a writer.  Talk to your family and help them understand the importance writing has in your life.  Ask for their support.  Make sure they know your proposed writing schedule and are on board with it.  That works for me because my wife knows my schedule.  She knows when I will be writing and when I will be available to do other things around the house.  Family support is so important to writers.

What about life’s little interruptions?  How do I overcome unanticipated schedule changes?  By being flexible in my planning and revising my writing schedule as I go, much the same as how I revise my writing after the first draft is complete.  On the occasions when my day job calls for me to be at work at 8:00 AM instead of 6:00 AM, I get up at the same time and try to be at my computer by 5:15 AM and write until 7:30 AM.  That makes up for the two hours I know I will lose at the end of the day by going to work later than usual.  My kids live out of town.  When my wife and I visit them, I take my laptop and write while I am there.  How do I do that and still find time to spend with my kids?  One way is that I am an early riser.  I get up long before anyone else in my family.  I take advantage of that and I write until everyone else gets up.  I sometimes combine that with staying up and writing after everyone else goes to bed.  Either way, I always try to accomplish something and advance the project I am working on.  Again, I must emphasize the support of my family.  My kids also support my writing and know how important it is to me.  As you establish the importance of your writing to those around you, and adopt the writer’s lifestyle, finding time to write will become the norm rather than the exception.

What about research time versus actual writing time?  Research doesn’t count as actual writing time, but it still has to be done.  How do you reconcile that?  The way I do it is by scheduling my research time just the same as I do my writing time.  Remember. My written schedule includes what I want to accomplish as well as the actual time scheduled.  Sometimes that goal is primarily research rather than prose.

Even though I am a meticulous planner, I have discovered something that runs contrary to the way I plan that has turned out to be a very pleasant surprise.  If you are a planner, rather than an organic writer, the basic plot outline is a great place to start.  However, if your plot starts to go elsewhere as you write, let it!  You might be pleasantly surprised at the results.  I was!

Here are some other tips to help you be a more productive writer.  Friend of PPW, Candace Havens (www.candacehavens.com) presented a session at the 2012 Frontiers in Writing Conference entitled Fast Draft.  The end result is to have a 280 page first draft in 14 days.  Sound like a lot?  It is.  How do you do it?  You plan it out.  Here are some of the highlights:

First, do all research, plot outlining, scene sketching, etc. ahead of time.  Those activities are not part of the 14-day Fast Draft process.

  • Next, get your family members on board.  For 14 days, this will be your primary focus.
  • Next, find an accountability partner.  You need someone who will ask you every day if you met your goal the previous day.  If you didn’t, they will want to know why.  To be successful, you need a partner who won’t accept excuses!
  • Set your goal for the number of pages you want to write each day.  Candace recommends a goal of 20 pages per day.  This results in a 280 page first draft in 14 days.
  • One important point is that there is absolutely no self-editing allowed during the Fast Draft process.  Simply put words on the page.  Remember, your goal is a first draft, not a finished product.  Major revisions will be required.

Once you have completed your Fast Draft, the revision process works just the same as the original process.  Get your family on board, find an accountability partner, and set a goal for the number of pages you want to revise each day.

Another thing to remember is that you pick the number of pages for your daily goal.  Be realistic.  If you know yourself well enough to know that 20 pages is too much for you, pick a realistic number, whether it is five, 10 or 13 pages.

One last thing to beware of; writing related tasks can interfere with your writing time if you let them.  What do I mean by writing related tasks? I’m talking about blogging, or social media related to your writing.  If you blog as a way to promote your work or if you use Twitter or Facebook to promote your work, plan and schedule that time separately from your writing.  Otherwise, there is a danger that you will discover you are spending valuable writing time doing something other than writing!

The bottom line is that how you write is just as unique as what you write.  What I’ve covered here works for me because I’m very structured and organized.  My method is not for everyone.  Find what works for you, commit to it and write!  You’ll be glad you did!

Matt Sherley

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