Sunday, March 14, 2010


I read an article online the other day where Elmore Leonard and a number of other published writers listed their ten rules for writing fiction. Here’s the link, if you are interested:

The article inspired me to come up with some rules of my own. Here they are. After you read them, feel free to chime in with your own.

1. Writing is not for sissies. (Yes, I know. I've said this before. But I think it bears repeating.) It is for stubborn, tough people who have a passion for the written word and who will not be ground down by the system or The Man . . . or . . er. . Woman, as the case may be.

2. Most writers are a little crazy and way insecure. And yet we bare ourselves to the world in the most fundamental and personal way. And that brings me full circle to the first statement. Most writers are a little crazy. You have to be crazy or masochistic to be a writer. Why else would you put yourself through this?

3. Set yourself a goal: 500 words a day, a chapter a week, 10,000 words a month. You won’t always reach it, but the guilt will get you back in the chair. Write something, somehow, whether it’s revision or plotting or blogging. Immerse yourself in the words and in the process.

4. When you are working on a new story, you know you’re on the right track when you hear your characters talking in your head. (See Rule Number Two about the crazies. In other realities, hearing voices is called schizophrenia).

5. Join a writer’s group. Other writers make a great support group. And it's nice to have friends that share and understand your insanity.

6. When you get rejected by an agent or lose a contest, allow yourself one day to sulk and sing the “I Suck” song and then plop yourself back down in front of the computer. (See Rule Number Three. The difference between a writer and a published writer is the published writer did not quit. Yes, Louisa, I am quoting you.)

7. Write what you know. I used to think, ‘What does that mean? Do I have to write about law because I’m a lawyer? I hate law! I don’t want to write about it.’ But I don’t think it means that. I write about small towns, not big cities, because that’s what I know.

8. Scrape up the money somehow, somewhere to go to conferences. It will give you the chance to pitch to agents in person (waaaay better than the dreaded query letter), they offer great workshops on writing – always a plus – and conferences are a great place to network and make new friends. Crazy new friends who are writers.

9. Avoid workshops and books that give you a formula on how to write a book, unless you already write by formula. Pantsers, I am talking to you! No formula works for every writer, and it will seriously freak you out and harsh your mellow if you are deep in the throes of writing a manuscript and you don’t write like the person who wrote the book, or the writers conducting the workshop. Happened to me, and I nearly had a nervous breakdown.

10. There is no right or wrong way to write, no easy answers. Sure, there are accepted rules of good writing. (Avoid the overuse of adjectives and adverbs, don’t use verbs other than ‘said’ in dialogue tags, she ejaculated! and use exclamation points sparingly, to name a few). But each of us approaches the craft differently. What works for one may not work for another. Some of us are plotters, some pantsers chasing after that drunken squirrel, but we are all writers. (Can't forget the squirrel, Mary!)

And ain’t that just the pip? I think so. Vive la difference!


Jeanie said...

I apologize to those of you who commented earlier. I tried to 'fix' my post, and ended up deleting your comments. I am so computer challenged it ain't even funny!

M.V.Freeman said...

Hey Jeanie!
First, LOVE those rules, especially #1--Writing is not for sissies...If you want a good dose of humility just enter contests with feed back or submit and get rejected.

I like all of your rules, and they have very good points to them. I truly believe you have to find a group, and to try and go to one conference. Mine, will be Moonlight and Magnolias. Would love nationals, but the money was not there.

And of course, you know how I feel about the drunken squirrel....:-P

Second---I had to laugh about your accidently deleting the comments, that sounds like something that would happen to me.

Hang in there, the world of computers is vast...and so long as the MS is not deteted the rest is just gravy. ;-P

Jeanie said...

Thanks, Mary. Love that drunken squirrel! I've never been to Moonlight and Magnolias, but I've heard it's a great conference. And I know all about rejection. It's tough, no bones about it. Contests can be a good thing. Constructive feedback and an impartial eye to look at your baby. My experience with contests has been mostly positive. I've found that unpublished judges can sometimes be more critical than the published ones. Funny, huh?

M.V.Freeman said...

So true Jeanie,
And I have to further explore your comment about how harsh unpublished judges tend to be at times (not all). Do you think it's because we unpublished are so critical on ourselves we tend to extend that to others? Or do maybe there may be a dose of fear and or jealousy? I've wondered. I try not to be bad, because I have to remember someone took the time to write that story, and it may be their first one. My personal belief is that there is always room for good stories, and the people who write them.

You come up with great things to think about Jeanie....

Gwen Hernandez said...

Great rules, Jeanie. Joining RWA and SM and meeting other writers has been the best decision I ever made (with regard to writing that is--wouldn't want my DH to wonder).

The support, and the opps for learning are amazing.

And I can't agree more about not letting another person's way of doing something mess you up. You have to take what works for you and leave the rest behind, just like with critiques and contest feedback.

In the end, it's YOUR story, YOUR voice. Keep growing but trust your process. Nice post!

Jeanie said...

Thanks, Gwen, thanks, Mary. I don't know WHY unpubbed judges can sometimes be harsher than others, but I've heard the same comment from other contestants, so I know it's not just me. Maybe it has to do with following 'the rules' too strictly. I had a similar experience on a writer's site with the fantasy novel I wrote. I had NO idea fantasy readers could be so snobby and critical! Whew, they tore me a new one.

I did have a bad experience with a write-by-the-numbers workshop. I almost had a panic attack right in the middle of the lecture, because I don't write like that! It was a horrible, roller coaster feeling. I calmed down, but it was a bad feeling there for a while. Now, I'm sure it was helpful to tons of other people, but it sent me into a tailspin.

Yeah, I'm a goose. Self-doubt and all of that. But it taught me a lesson!

M.V.Freeman said...

I know exactly the feeling you have, I've done that--where I am sitting in the workshop, and I am supposed to do lists, and all sorts of things. It made me want to vapor lock. Like you I had to take a step back.

Yep, we all write a different way, but finding that way is the hard part! LOL