My rules for writers

A couple of days ago, I stumbled upon Zadie Smith’s Rules for Writers, and, coupled with a conversation I had on Twitter last night, I thought I’d give my own list a go.

For those of you still new to me, here are my credentials: I’ve been seriously writing for publication since I was about fifteen (which is 27 years and pre-internet!), have received at least 300 rejections, had two major writing breaks, and suffer writers block every time I finish a project.

4-book-web-site-picI’ve also had 12 short stories published in small press journals; 19 short stories long-listed, short-listed and placed 3rd, 2nd or 1st in competitions; and three books published by small/indie publishers and one book self-published.

  1. Don’t aspire be the next [insert best-selling author in your genre], be the first you. By the time you’ve read that author’s latest book, and been inspired to write something similar, the industry has moved on to the next big thing. Don’t you want to lead rather than follow?
  2. Don’t expect your first draft to be perfect. Most books go through at least several drafts before they are published. Mine go through¬†many
  3. Don’t be afraid of rejection. I wrote a post about that…
  4. Read, a lot – in your genre, outside of your genre, non-fiction
  5. Don’t force yourself to write if you don’t feel like it. I’ve read a lot of advice that says you should write every day, but it doesn’t work for me, so I don’t do it
  6. In fact, ignore any advice you don’t think will work for you
  7. Know the rules of good grammar, and then break them, if it works in your story
  8. Know the rules of submission etiquette and¬†stick to them. Agents and editors have a preference, for their ease, on how they want to be approached. Don’t give them a reason to reject you before they’ve even read your manuscript. Janet Reid has a lot of advice. Personally, I learnt from Writing Magazine.
  9. Take regular breaks, preferably outside. You don’t want to look pasty in your promotional material
  10. Don’t give up if things don’t go exactly to plan. Think of plans more as a guideline.

Bonus tip: Enjoy it. If you don’t enjoy writing, if it causes you misery or heartache or depression more than it brings you joy, consider whether it’s really the path you want to take.

 

What would you add to this list?

 

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#ThrowbackThursday – Un-Studying Literature

Today’s Throwback Thursday post comes from the 2012 Blogging From A – Z Challenge, an annual blogging challenge that happens in April. If you haven’t heard of it before, it’s a great way to get out of your blogging comfort zone, and perhaps find some fantastic new bloggers. About now is a great time to think about topics and start to prepare. I don’t take part every year – I haven’t decided about 2017 yet.

About three days into my English Literature A Level, I realised I shouldn’t be on the course, because that was the time I realised literature shouldn’t be studied, it should be enjoyed.

I know… that’s a mind-bending statement, isn’t it? Well, no – not unless you’re an English teacher.

Think about the writers we study:

  • Shakespeare
  • The Brontes
  • Thomas Hardy
  • Charles Dickens
  • Wordsworth

What do all these writers have in common? They were all popular writers. They weren’t writing high literature – that’s the mantel we’ve placed them on. They were writing prose that the common man in the street, at the time they were writing, would find enjoyable. They probably didn’t place too much store on the symbolism and metaphors used. They just wrote, the same way you and I do, telling their story in the most effective way.

What I’d love to say to my English teacher is:

We shouldn’t be doing this. We should be enjoying the books the way they were intended. We should think about the themes, embrace the story, perhaps even consider the moment in history they are portraying. What better way to understand history than through the eyes of people who lived in it – these authors had important things to say about the world they were living in. They don’t deserve to have their prose broken down into blocks of text for 18 year olds to pour over in sticky school halls, extracting every last significance out of every last full stop and semi-colon. Sometimes, Mr English Teacher, Sir, I’m sure they chose to describe the sky as cloudy because it just was, not to foretell something terrible in a hundred pages time!

My English teacher is currently a member of the gym where I work. I could quite easily walk up to him while he’s a captive audience on the rowing machine tomorrow and say all of that to him.

You’ll probably be quite glad to hear I won’t. I’ll leave him to enjoy his workout.

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This is my last post before Christmas, so I’d like to wish you Merry Christmas.