Writing books for aspiring writers are chock full of rules… okay, that’s an exaggeration, but it seems everyone is bent on giving advice to the newbie writer. Some of this advice is right on the mark, but other times it flies astray. The most important rule to remember, I think, is the fact that every writer is different. What works for one writer, might not work for another. For example, one of the most quoted aphorisms for the aspiring writer is “Write every day.” I wish. Maybe it’s a sign that I’m not supposed to be a writer, but I’ve tried. I’ve really tried. And I can’t write every day. I’ll go through phases and write consistently for several weeks at a time, then burn out and be unable to function for a week or so. I think, perhaps, the better advice is the advice a writerly friend once gave me: “Do something writerly every day.” Write on those days you can. Read on those days you can’t. Or take a look at poetry to study the economy of word usage. Set a day aside for world building. Another day for development of your craft. Having a varied approach to the discipline can be quite effective. This works much better for me, if for no other reason that it alleviates the stress that comes with the utter conviction that I must write every day. I’ve learned to pace myself somewhat. Keeping that in mind, I’d change the rule to “Write as often as you can.”
The next rule is: “Revision. Revision. Revision.” Don’t ever stop revising. The first draft is never the final draft. You will always be able to improve a piece through revision. And besides, this will probably take up as much of your time as writing, or very close to it. I know it takes me about an hour to complete a rough draft of three pages or so. A typical chapter measures fifteen pages in length, which gives me five hours of typing. Then, I revise the chapter at least four times at about an hour or two for each revision. These are all rough estimates, but it is clear that the time spent editing and revising is comparable to, if not greater than, the time actually spent writing. And that’s a good thing. The more you edit and revise, the more you improve your craft… that’s where the real learning the ins and outs of writing happens.
The next rule is: “Get feedback.” Ideally, you should join a writing group of people whose writing ability is at least comparable to your own, if not superior. That’s the best way to learn—from those who know. Even if you live out in the country, the Internet can provide access to a great deal of writing talent. Just do a search for on-line writing groups.
Next is: “Patience.” If you are going the traditional route, expect to be rejected. Over and over again. It happened to me so often, I just said to heck with it and decided to publish on my own. If you are like me and want to go the self-publishing route, you get to do all the work from writing the manuscript to marketing it. If you don’t have the skills, you will have to develop them.
The final rule is: “Build your reputation.” It can be a little overwhelming at first. Begin with a blog and/or a web-site. Consistently provide value to your site and the followers will come. It’s a time consuming process, but you should devote a certain amount of time each week to marketing and building your reputation. As a general rule, I try to write all my blog entries in advance so I’m not running around like a chicken with its head cut off when it comes time to publish them. It saves on the stress and blood pressure.
Well, those are five (or is it six?) of the most important rules of writing. Follow those and you’ll be on your way.