About Writing on Wednesdays: Rules For Writers

Every writer has his or her own approach to writing but when we write the same basic rules apply to all of us. Most rules are inviolate, some are more like guidelines while other rules are made to be broken.

As writer’s we want to use our voice to create characters and worlds that has readers coming back for more.  Whether we break or bend the rules or not we are manipulating them to create our own unique voice.

The trick is to know which is what. Got that? The first rule before breaking the rules is to know the rules. You have to know what you’re doing and why before you decide not to do it.

The Ten Rules About Writing panel was hosted by Amy Sturgis, Faith Hunter and Allen Wold at Stellarcon.  They had a lot more than ten and I added to their list. The distinction between rules that can not be broken or bent and the ones that can are my own.

Rules that Should not be Broken

In no particular order and of equal importance:

– The first thing on the list is butt in chair and hands on keyboard.  If you don’t sit down and start typing, you’re not writing. It’s that simple and just that hard.

– Write, write, write, write. And write some more. Ok. This is the most important, if you don’t write the rest doesn’t matter.

– A good habit to start: read over what you’re writing. Holly Lisle teaches this at How to Think Sideways.

– Educate yourself. Writing is a craft and like all crafts there’s always something new to learn and skills to grow. There are books, blogs, writing courses and websites all dedicated to writing. Find them and learn from them.

One of my favorites is Magical Words. It’s not just a favorite because I actually met many of the authors who post to this site at Stellarcon. Their posts are informative, to the point and you learn something.

– Know your sub genres and realize they do change. This is important if you want to publish.

– Do not put the picture of your favorite author on your desk. There will always be someone who writes better, wins more awards and gets more recognition but the reverse is true, too.

– Do your research. Know your resources and make sure your information is right. People are a good resource.

– Write what you know and if don’t know then find out. If you write about motorcycles then you better know that Yamaha’s have a high-pitched whine but Harley Davidson’s have a full roaring sound. Another example is you don’t shoot arrows, you loose them.

– Don’t be addicted to show not tell. The narrator’s job is to do the camera work. An example: When she walked into the room everyone turned and stared.

– “The story comes first,” says Allen Wold. “Everything else serves the story.” He gives an example of the book Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein. The book has no description in it. Instead it uses tension and action to drive the story. Description serves the story but the lack there of can as well.

In other words the reader is free to imagine what the bugs or scenery look like for themselves. Another writer who used lack of description to her advantage was Marion Zimmer Bradley. She said she couldn’t imagine the monsters or aliens nearly as well as her readers could and if she tried she would only disappoint them.

– Finish the story. Well, yes.

– Do not wait to send your manuscript until it’s perfect because then it will never be sent out.

Guidelines to Bend or Break

Again in no particular order or importance:

– Never rewrite unless at editorial direction and only if they’re buying. If there’s a good chance they’ll buy if you change something then this is a rule to bend.

– Write what you love. If you want to eat sometimes you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do. Georgette Heyer hated to write Regency novels but they made a living for her so she wrote them. I’m glad she did.

– Send the book out. Maybe. The book doesn’t have to be perfect but do make sure it is quality work.

– Do not give the reader information until they need to know it. Avoid info dumps. Filter the information through the story and use it where it’s the most effective. On another panel at Stellar Con Toni Weisskopf (publisher/editor at Baen Books) said the opposite, she loves info dumps.

I think this is a case of what serves the story?

– Network. Get to know people like editors, writers and publishers. Always be nice and buy drinks. Hmmn. This could be beyond me but if I hang around long enough maybe I’ll grow on people?

– From Allen Wold, “A writer writes, an author has their name on a book.” Do you agree with this?

Now a suggestion. Take a deep breath and recognize you’re on a lifelong journey. A wonderful, madcap journey full of laughter, tears, and hard work where you’ll visit different worlds and meet new characters. Write on.

So what are your rules for writers? I’m curious.


8 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Diane
    Apr 27, 2011 @ 05:19:52

    My rules are: write, edit, proofread, create cover and send to ebook sites.

    Never change if requested, unless you have already been paid an advance. Put it on ebook sites and while it is selling, you can write a better story, knowing what you wrote attracted an editor, so the next book will too.

    Watch out for telling instead of showing: “When she walked into the room everyone turned and stared” is OK but would be better to have “When she noticed everyone watching she leant close to her companion. “Have I got dirt on my face?” It gets the reader close to the character. The reader can feel her discomfort.

    If you want the reader to skim or miss whole pages, then do an info dump.

    Learn to think like an editor, complete How To Revise Your Novel to improve your first draft. It will improve your writing skills in the next story, it will improve the draft to attract readers, and it will sell.

    Most of all, sit and write about things that interest you. 🙂

    Also, while others are networking, write. The more stories you have available the easier it is for the readers to find your books.

    Any other rule can and should be broken, if it helps improve your story. 🙂


    • curiocat
      Apr 28, 2011 @ 03:37:26

      Diane, great rules. As you know DWS advocates writing short stories as a way to network. I’ll probably use a combo of his advice and Kristen Lamb’s method. Since I’m not a real fast writer and networking intimidates me I hope combining the two works for me.


  2. Shellie Sakai
    Apr 27, 2011 @ 06:37:13

    A very good list to have! I am going to print it out and put it up on my story board. I am too new to have my own rules except one, “write, write, write – if you don’t start you can’t finish”

    Thank you!


  3. Tiffany A White
    Apr 27, 2011 @ 10:03:32

    Great post! Before attending DFWcon, I wrote – sat in my chair and typed everyday. Now, I feel socializing with other writers is absolutely imperative. I’ve learned so much from the other writers out there, and my writing world has brightened. So I guess my #1 rule is to get out there – twitter especially!


    • curiocat
      Apr 28, 2011 @ 03:42:29

      Thanks for coming by, Tiffany. I’m glad you enjoyed the post. You are an excellent networker and I’ve watched in awe/envy as you’ve soared on your blog. You are going places, girl!


  4. Holly
    Apr 27, 2011 @ 16:40:12

    My # 1 rule is be coherent!


    • curiocat
      Apr 28, 2011 @ 03:46:36

      Sweet girl, you are. Your articles on working out in the gym are informative and interesting. I’m proud of how much you’ve grown over the last year in writing them.


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