Rules of writing
Books about writing
Over the years I have read a growing number of books and articles about writing. I still have quite a pile to finish; some I haven’t even started. Funny thing is that the pile never seems to diminish. When I was doing my Master of Arts (creative writing) degree I devoured many quite wonderful books about writing. Here and there I picked up little gems of wisdom from great practitioners of the craft.
The key to success
Over the last decade I have also trolled the internet for that magic bullet, a priceless pearl of wisdom, or the key to open the door to success as a writer. I am still looking. I am slowly coming to realise that I should have looked in the dictionary first. Work – hard work – is the only real key to success.
That is not to play down the importance of reading about the craft of writing in books and on the internet. Much can be learned from these sources. Every now and then I come across a sentence, or a paragraph and even a whole chapter or article which makes an immediate impact. Putting that wisdom into practice is the hard part.
Lists, lists and more lists
One thing I have noticed about internet and blog articles in particular is the love of lists. It seems like hundreds, maybe even thousands, of writers are making lists. 10 ways to be a better writer. 7 sure ways of getting published. 9 methods of securing an agent. The ‘list’ could go on and on.
No; I am not going to write a list. (Confession: I have been known to – see here.)
Instead, I am going to reflect on a list I read a few days ago. The article is called Zadie Smith’s 10 rules of writing. I will comment on just a couple of them.
Avoid cliques, gangs, groups. The presence of a crowd won’t make your writing any better than it is.
I understand what the she is trying to say. Sometimes a group of fellow writers can muddy the water, and they will make suggestions which are not only not helpful, but are downright harmful. An example occurred with one of degree supervisors; she didn’t understand the climate of the country where my novel was set. Generally however, I find that belonging to a writers’ group can be very beneficial. Many of my reasons are included in articles here and here and here and here.
Work on a computer that is disconnected from the internet.
Guilty as charged.
I spend – often it is waste – too much time checking and reading my email, Facebook updates and Twitter feeds. I guess I should regard that wasted time as lost income from writing.
Protect the time and space in which you write. Keep everybody away from it, even the people who are most important to you.
Dealing with this one is far more difficult for me. While my wife encourages me by giving me the time and space to write, most other people regard me as retired. Sure, 10 years ago I retired from classroom teaching. Now I try to be a full time writer. That has been very difficult over the last few years when my wife was caring full time for her mother and left me to deal with the housework. We were also without a pastor at church, so I was spending 10 – 15 hours or more running the church. Both of those situations have now changed, so I am without excuse.
- Join a writers’ group
- Another benefit of joining a writers’ group
- Fun at my writers’ group
- The importance of a writers’ group
The photo below has nothing to do with this article. I just think it’s a lovely flower.
The benefits of writing short stories
This morning a friend posted on Facebook a quote from another writer, inviting comments in response. The quote went:
Writing 20 short stories of 5,000 words each will teach you more about writing fiction than writing a 100,000 word novel. And they’ll make more money for you too.
The quote is from an article “Writing short stories: 3 tips for creating characters readers love“
I certainly agree with this statement.
Instead of one set of characters and one setting in a novel, you will have multiple settings, you can experiment with different voices and points of view, and include various types of characters in 20 or so stories (unless the stories are in a series written about one character).
Dealing with a diverse range of characters, settings and so on would certainly hone one’s writing skills. For beginner or emerging writers this would be particularly helpful. And to those writers my advice would be “Just write” – anything and everything. The more you practice any skill, the better you should become. Of course, mentoring and getting advice from experienced writers helps too; that’s why I did a Master of Arts (Creative Writing) a few years ago. I would also encourage the devouring of as many books and articles about writing as time allows.
Ray Bradbury (Science fiction writer) once told an aspiring writer to go away and write a million words – then come back and he’d mentor him. Malcolm Gladwell (“Outliers“) says it takes 10,000 hours of practice to develop expertise in any field of endeavour.
I never had much published until I had passed both of those marks. Once a writer has achieved those benchmarks, THEN it is time to tackle that 100,000 word novel – if that is what you want to do. By then you will know how to write, how to develop a character, how to plot and have a fairly good grasp of what it takes to be a writer. As an aside, I spent 35 years in elementary classroom teaching; it was only in the last few years that I caught myself saying that “now I know what this teaching thing is all about.”
By the way – later this year I should pass the 3 million word mark and next year the 20,000 hour mark. Despite this I have so much more yet to write about, and the more I write, the more I discover and imagine to write about.
I’ve only covered on small quote from the article my friend found. It has far more to say, especially about turning those short stories into e-books to make more money than a novel might ever produce.
Thanks to Jade for the inspiration to write this post.