Four Non-Rules of Writing
It would be, I feel, hyper hypercritical and a little conceited if I were to offer any advice towards writing. I’m a short story writer. Made my pro sales, got the badge to prove it. All that type of stuff. But I certainly don’t qualify to give advice. What I can do however is point out a couple of ‘rules’ I’ve noticed along the way.
Rule one of writing: There are no rules, or is it don’t talk about writing?
Just over two years ago, I decided to start writing with a view to publish. Before that I’d messed around, written a little here or there, but made no attempt to better myself as a writer or do any of the half-dozen things we’re told that writers should do. Anyway, I took the plunge joined a writing group and realised exactly where I stood in terms of quality and skill. In short: it’s a big pond and I’m a little fish. It didn’t stop me though. And I largely suspected that nothing could – short of blindness and my hands being cut off.
I love telling stories, love it, regardless of how crap they may be.
Now the great thing about joining a writing group is that sooner or later you’ll receive an honest critique of your work and unless you’re the next Shakespeare – you’re not, you know – the glaring mistakes will be pointed out. It’s a tough pill to swallow, to be honest. But toughen up, if you want to be published.
So taking a deep breath, I listened to what people had to say, and I mean really listened, and continued to write. Not long after, I realised that all advice was contradictory at best and damaging at worse. Use adverbs: don’t use adverbs. Remove all instances of ‘was’: leave ‘was’ in. Do as I say, not as I do. Ugh. I ended up taking what worked for me and binning the rest. My stories got better, and the sales started to come in. Last year, I set my goal for three pro sales and made it with change. Not bad for a newbie. I also got the gig working for Starburst interviewing famous folk and reviewing books – which is the best job ever. Fact.
So what else did I learn?
Rule two of writing: The publishing world isn’t fair.
Just like life isn’t fair. Which sounds like me whining. I’m not. No, really . . . well, just a little. In this game, the end product is all that really counts. If you’ve got great work that has win all over it, you’ll go far. If you haven’t, then back to the drawing board. That said, I’ve known plenty of great writers who still struggle to make a sale. Their time will come. I’m sure. Just not yet. The thing of it is, yes, you might have an awesome manuscript or a clever short story that will knock the reader’s socks off, but so does the next guy and the guy after that. Which I guess takes us back to the toughen up comment. Grow a thick skin.
Rule three: Writing is subjective.
Some people will love your work. Others will hate it. It’s weird, I know, but it’s true. Only really worry if everyone hates it. Corps Cadavres sold to pseudopod – thanks guys – they believed in that story enough to turn it into an awesome podcast. But when handed to the forums, it’s fair to say the response was divided. What’s that old adage: you can’t please all the people all the time. Well, in writing that’s definitely true.
Rule four: Read like it’s going out of fashion.
The theory being that the more you read, the better you’ll become. Is it true? You know, I think it is. I currently spend hours reading a day. When I can, wherever I can. I like it, makes me feel good. You should do the same.