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Jay Lake
Date: 2010-03-02 05:26
Subject: [process] Rules of Writing (meme)
Security: Public
Tags:books, meme, process, stories, writing
Because all the cool kids are doing it.

I only have one rule of writing. Everything else is a guideline. Sort of like the Pirate Code.
  1. Write more.

Which is to say, whatever you're doing, do more of it.

I do have several strong guidelines.
  • Write something every week. (A story, a chapter, something discrete and measurable.)

  • Finish everything you start. (I suspect more nascent careers fail here than anywhere else. How many unfinished stories and novels do you have? If you don't finish it, you can't revise, market and sell it. Period.)

  • Don't self-critique while you're writing. (For a lot of folks, this may be the root cause of the previous issue. It doesn't matter if the piece is crap. You're probably wrong, as the writer is the worst judge of their own work. And besides, you can always revise.)

  • Work on one thing at a time. (In my case, a novel, a short story, a collab and a nonfiction project can all run in parallel. But if I work on two of the same thing, the voice bleeds over and I lose track of continuity.)

That's all I got. What would you add?

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User: rovanda
Date: 2010-03-02 13:40 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I have been finding all of these useful, though I'm worst at the "finish everything you start" one.

One thing I've found important is letting friends read what I write. I started out so shy about my writing that I didn't even tell my husband I wanted to be a writer for a long time. Letting friends read what I write was a key step on the way to writing more, learning to turn off the internal editor and finishing at least some things.
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(no subject) - (Anonymous)
Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2010-03-02 14:09 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I have sat at retreats with other writers and seen them type several thousand words, deleting most of them screaming, "This is shit!" and wind up with 2 manuscript pages. Not, to my observation, to anyone's benefit whatsoever.

Really, delete on revision draft. I swear.
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User: manmela
Date: 2010-03-02 14:29 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
1) Don't listen to any advice. It's the journey not the destination.
2) This includes point #1
3) Write the type of high quality stuff you love but seriously doubt anyone else would want to publish. Make it the best stuff that an editor has ever had to reject.
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User: e_bourne
Date: 2010-03-02 15:20 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
My rules are a little simpler. But then I'm not a big name pro like you. :-)

Write every day. Even if all you can manage is a crappy piece of haiku 'cuz that's all the time you have. Something every day.

No self-editing. Your internal editor is the bully at school who picked on you. Kick him/her in the nuts and carry on.


Revise for a long time.

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User: keikaimalu
Date: 2010-03-02 15:52 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
For myself: "Exercise kindness toward yourself while you write." Goes along with your "Don't self-critique while you're writing."

Also: "Let the first draft be shit."

And: "Don't ever force yourself to write."

And: "It's okay not to finish what you start."

But that's me. I've had a long, complex, and possibly idiosyncratic relationship with writing, and most of the standard rules and guidelines don't work for me. I may never become the prolific writer I thought I would be -- I may never finish much, and I may not even start much -- but more pressure just shuts writing down for me completely. So I'll take what I can get.
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Danny Adams
User: madwriter
Date: 2010-03-02 16:27 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Well, overall I've posted my personal semi-rules. As for your last guideline...

>>Work on one thing at a time.<<

I stick to this except in two situations. One, if I'm having writer's block. Fortunately this is rare in itself and 95% of the time I can push through it by giving my work some more thinking time. The other 5% I may drop away and write a poem, or maybe a short story (though I wrote only one short story in all of 2009), and by the time I go back to Project Alpha I've solved my problem.

The other situation is just when a burst of inspiration for poetry hits, at which point I write the poem down. But this usually only distracts me for a few minutes to a half-hour.
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Twilight: Imperious
User: twilight2000
Date: 2010-03-02 17:00 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
All good - and all I've learned from you and the other writers I've had the joy of hanging out with at conventions.

The one thing I'm BAD at is submitting finished work. Really bad. I finish, but I find every excuse in the world to not send stuff in. I didn't realize that was the case until recently, but really? That's what I'm doing... hmmm...
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A large duck
User: burger_eater
Date: 2010-03-02 22:05 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Thanks for doing these.
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2010-03-02 22:06 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
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User: otterdance
Date: 2010-03-03 03:04 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Good stuff, especially #1. :-) I posted mine over on my LJ last week.

For me there's a difference between self critiquing and revising as I go. The one time I tried to write a draft, A to Z, without stopping I ended up throwing the entire first half of the book away and missing my deadline. I begin each work day by reading yesterday's output and tinkering. Sometimes I come up with a new direction that requires some retrofitting. When I'm having a slow brain day, I go back and do that. But it's all done gently and deliberately, part of the creative process. That's different than declaring everything shit and throwing it out. Sometimes I think a chunk doesn't work, so I cut and paste it into a separate file. Often I end up using some or all of it somewhere else in the book.

Bottom line: find what works for you and do that. Every day.
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Rhonda Parrish
User: rhondaparrish
Date: 2010-03-04 00:12 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
"Write something every week. (A story, a chapter, something discrete and measurable.)"

That is fabulous advice. Thank you. I've been measuring progress by word count, which is...well, it's not as concrete as chapters or stories. Thank you, I suspect this will be very helpful.
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Ruthanne Reid
User: ruthannereid
Date: 2010-05-04 20:15 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Excellent. Reminds me of Nora Roberts' famous quote, "I can fix a bad page, I can't fix a blank one."

For me, the biggest rule almost seems like a violation of "don't self-edit," but I swear it's not: 1. Trust your instincts.

If I have a feeling this chapter isn't working, I need to stop and figure out why - or else what ends up happening is I keep going, and it's wrong, and it just ends up getting deleted in huge chunks (once as much as 40,000 words).

I learned this lesson a while ago. It's improved both my output and my "keeper" pages.
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