Ten Rules for Writing

Okay, so by now you have read the Ten Rules of Writing that appeared on the Guardian website and has flashed all around the Web. If not, here are the links to part one and part two of the article. The article contains some interesting, and contradictory, tips on writing.

Ten Rules for Writing, Part 1

Ten Rules for Writing, Part 2

Reading these lists has inspired me to create on own rules for writing. Even though I’ve only published a handful of non-fiction pieces and some poetry, and spend most of my time writing corporate communications, here are some of the things I’ve learned from the writing I’ve done and whilst writing my first novel.

1. Adverbs are not your friends. I agree with several writers in the Guardian article. Adverbs are a crutch that needs to be removed in subsequent drafts.

2. Don’t use dialogue tags (he said angrily). Don’t tell me how the character said something, show me through the choice of words in the dialogue itself or in the actions of the writer.

3. You don’t have to start at the beginning. This is a trick I learned in journalism school. The lead, or beginning of an article, is the most important and therefore the hardest to write. Write the middle and ending first and then you’ll know what the beginning should be. In the age of computers, you can start wherever you want.

4. Pick a time, the same time, every day to write and stick to it. During National Novel Writing month, I got into the habit of going to a coffee shop every afternoon to write. Bad for the waist line, but I did write 32,000 words of the first draft of my novel. I’m trying to find a new regular time that doesn’t involve a coffee shop.

5. Take a notebook and a pen with you every where. You just never know when an idea will come to you – and it will come to you when you don’t have any paper! Smart phones are okay, but my brain works faster than my fingers on the tiny keys.

6. Read books about writing. My local bookstore has a whole section on writing and publishing. Okay, lots of them are rubbish, but a few have been helpful. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott is brilliant. The Art of Fiction by David Lodge is a great guide.

7. Read widely. Read in your genre, but also challenge yourself to read books you wouldn’t naturally be drawn to, you just might be surprised. I used to turn up my nose at fantasy fiction, but after reading Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy I’ve become intrigued with the idea of using myth and fairy tales in my own writing.

8. When stuck, keep writing. This comes from my journalism/corporate communications experience where not finishing something is not an option. Throw words on the page. Don’t worry about what order the words are in.  Sometimes changing the medium works. When I’ve had enough of staring at a computer screen, I pick up a pad of paper or a notebook.

9. If you are really stuck, try writing something else. Keep your hand moving across the page, or fingers on the keys. It keeps your brain connected to the writing process. You just might find that your subconscious mind has been working on the stuck piece of writing while you were occupied.

10. End the day’s writing session with a note on what will be written next. I often end a day’s writing by adding a couple of bullet points to the bottom of the page on where I think I’ll take the story next. This way, I’ll have something to start with the next day.

What are your ten rules for writing?


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