Monday, August 01, 2011

Weekend Writer: Following the Rules

For me, writing fiction is the end product of the storytelling that happens inside my head. Long before I ever started writing stories, I told stories. My head buzzed with "what if" and "how did that happen" questions. Some of the stories were wonderful and I wish I could remember the details that made them sparkle in the minds of the listeners. Not committing them to the page means I may never write them at all. Others were downright awful. I am so glad that group was never written down.

Now I take a more professional approach to story telling. There is a folder on my computer titled "unfinished." It contains the germ of a story that may someday be written. I go back to it regularly. When I am stuck or unsure of what to write, I read through those ideas. Sometimes I pluck one out and write the story. More often, a whole new "what if" question pops into my brain and a new story is born.

This is why my number one rule for writing fiction is: write down the story idea. It doesn't have to be good. Just write it down. Put it away somewhere where you can go back and visit it now and then. If it doesn't become a story, so what? Not every idea is worthy of becoming a story. But for me, those ideas are memory triggers and at any time I may need to see just that thought to build a great story.

Second on my list is read, read, read... Did you get the point of that one? If writers don't read, they miss more than just a good story. Good books, bad books, books on the craft of writing, books about history, math, science... Read. Let your reading take you wherever your imagination wants to go. You'll learn from all of it. More important, perusing your interests will enrich your life. Reading will begin the process of furnishing your mind.

Pay attention. That may seem like a silly rule but hear me out. If you pay attention to the world around you, the world will help you furnish your mind with details the unobservant miss. For instance, you pay attention to a room of full bored people. Not a very interesting emotion to pay attention to? I have to disagree. If you pay attention, you can walk away with a head full of ways to show the reader boredom, body language, facial expressions, actions, and reactions are different in every single person in the room.

Write. There two kinds of writers in the world, the ones that plant their butts in a chair and write and the ones that find reasons not to write, the former finish manuscripts.

Edit. Nobody, no matter how practiced or professional, writes without needing to edit. Once you have a finished manuscript go back and edit. Typos, misuse of grammar, words, and punctuation sneak into the best of manuscripts. Auto-correct will slap you in the face with a totally wrong “correction.” So edit with an eye toward detail.

Read the work aloud. I will confess that I sometimes feel a little stupid for sitting in an empty room reading my story aloud, but not as stupid as I would feel standing to read my work aloud in front of an audience and realizing that I let something that doesn’t sound right get past me in the edits. I read aloud, every story, every chapter, because that is the only way I can be sure that anyone reading my work hears a natural sounding voice.

Use smart beta readers. Don’t just give your draft to a few close friends or family members to review. Find the best beta readers you can get and ask them to give you an honest evaluation of your work. It pays off big time.

Submit your work to publishers. In the electronic age everyone can be published. Go that route and you don’t have to deal with rejection. Go that route and you don’t get to know what it feels like to get an acceptance letter from a great publisher. You don’t get editors who can say no to your work if it isn’t up to standard. Even if you self-publish after paying a pro to edit, you should still send some of your work to others. It helps you grow as an author.

Learn from rejection. Any writer who hasn’t been rejected hasn’t submitted enough work. If you are lucky enough to get an editor that sends more than a form rejection read their advice. If not, go back and read the work they accept and see how yours is different. Then try again.

My final piece of advice for this blog post is: don’t stop. Don’t stop writing, don’t stop editing, don’t stop submitting and above all don’t stop growing as an author.

There are lots of other rules I have for myself about writing, but this is only my top ten. What about you? What are your top rules for writing.


Wayne Fielder said...

It is interesting how things come together sometimes. Was chatting with some folks on Facebook when Sarah Glenn posts an article she wrote about a television series from long ago. On that blog I find your link and thought for a moment that I might know you from years ago. I do not believe that is the case but I am VERY happy I stumbled upon this post. Encouragement just when I needed it. Thanks even if you don't know why. :)

Gwen Mayo said...

I am glad you found encouragement in my post. I look forward to seeing your name appear on published work.