Projects,  Writing

16 rules for writing

Just another summer day by Dia via Flickr/Photopin
Just another summer day by Dia via Flickr/Photopin

So the other day I was teaching a class on social media and I was asked by one of the students to pause and go back to what I had said when I introduced myself about my creative writing.

And when I did, she said, “That’s what my daughter wants to do – she’s 17.”

“Is she really passionate about it?” I asked.

“Yes – she is. She is always writing.” The student paused here. “What should she be doing? What degree? What degree did you do?”

Fortunately, she was interested in an actual answer. Here it is in list form:

  1. Get used to the idea now that you will HAVE to support yourself somehow while you pursue the madness that is writing. If you have a set job in mind that will help you pay the bills and not make you go mad and leave you enough time to write, then find out how to get into it and if it needs a degree and then go do that degree.
  2. Keep writing. Even if it never sees the light of day. Even if it is horrible. Keep writing. “Nothing is ever wasted.” That maxim comes from Amanda Curtin and Kerry Greenwood, two published and successful authors and truth be told I am only just starting to believe it again myself but it is true.
  3. You will need time and space of your own to write. This may require you actively becoming a hermit for a few hours a day. It may require you locking the door. It may require you saying “No” to really important social events. You need to be able to disappear into the world you are creating which means I can write in a locked room, in a cafe, on a train where it is reasonably all right or possible to ignore everyone around you for lengths of time but I cannot write sitting next to my mother for example because she will want to chat. Unless she is writing too.
  4. Clock in and clock out for your writing every day. If you want to write, writing is work. Don’t wait to be inspired, don’t wait for the muse. Show up for work every day. Treat it like your second job because it is. You may not be writing something wonderful everyday but you will be practicing and laying the groundwork. Ernest Hemingway woke up early to write while standing up at his desk for several hours in the morning every day.
  5. Talk to other writers. We be your people. We get you. You need us if only to reassure you that you aren’t mad.
  6. Characters DRIVE your plot. THEY make your stories happen so make them realistic, make them easy to relate to, make them human. And then try to keep up with how fast your stories unfold. It matters not if you work with a plan or without, have believable characters.
  7. You need the things that make you fully believe that you are now working on your writing. Kerry Greenwood wears a “writing hat”, Amanda Curtin has a studio with three desks and supplies of tea – find the things that trick you into that mentality and the things that you will need, such as food and drink, while you write. It may even require you wearing work wear before you sit down at your desk.
  8. Write first. The edits come when you have at least 60,000 words on screen or paper. Not a moment before.
  9. Accept criticism with grace. You will never notice everything wrong with your work. Let others cast an eye over it and then figure out if it needs changing. It usually does.
  10. Get a good desk chair. Get up every twenty minutes and walk around. Your body will thank you for it.
  11. Style is something that evolves over time, provided you keep writing. All you have to do is learn the rules and remember that every word earns its place on the page.
  12. Others will write better than you do. Others will write worse than you do. Accept both with grace and shut up and keep writing. Only you will write the way you do and about what you do.
  13. Despite writing fiction, research is NOT a step you can skip. Do it. Don’t whinge.
  14. If someone offers to help you in any way, be it money, food, offer of an office space, TAKE IT. Be grateful. And mentally make a note to list them in the acknowledgements.
  15. Creative work is work too and it is HARD. Make sure you know and accept this and your nearest and dearest know and accept this too.
  16. Your work will change as you change. What you wrote ages ago, published or otherwise, worked well for back then but possibly won’t for now. Aim to improve and don’t cringe too much when you look back.

Hope this is helpful somehow. 🙂

Photo credit: Dia™ via photopin cc

Marisa is a globetrotting freelance writer, journalist and editor with cat for hire (her, not the cat). She is usually based in Melbourne but is currently flouncing around in Perth for a week for the Inaugural 2018 KSP - Varuna Foundation Fellowship. She will be at Melbourne's Continuum and online running a Writers' Bloc course in the coming weeks.

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