All writers have a process that allows them to create. However, the art of "Writing" is often mistaken for that "Process." Hopefully this blog explains the difference, and inspires people to develop their crafts, become writers, or just keep on writing.

Friday, October 20, 2023

(My) Rules of Writing

Noted author Elmore Leonard is known for a lot of stories, but most workshop attendees get to know him for his "10 Rules for Good Writing," which can be found anywhere on the internet. Now, some people follow them religiously, others take issue with one or two, and there are even those who are totally against them. I personally agree with most of them, though perhaps for different reasons. When he says, "Never open a book with weather," some people interpret this as never open with cheap drama like a storm, rain, etc., while others say it's more about finding something more direct to open with. I personally believe that a good opening should contain some actual element of the main story arc, and unless a main character is, in fact, a storm front, leave it out. That's just me.

Elmore Leonard
And yes, that's what I am going with - these are some of my rules for writing. You can accept them, challenge them, resist them, or ignore them. The point is that this is the ground where I stand, and to know me as a writer is to know this stuff. So, here are a few important ones:

The only purpose of a first draft is to get the story from your brain to the page. Writers often set unrealistic expectations on their writing, especially when first creating something. One of those expectations is to think there's gold in every word you write from the moment you type/write/create it. Wrong! Your first draft will be a maze of half-baked ideas, shallow characters and transparent motives, mixing about as smoothly as rocks in a blender. Accept this and process the idea, write those horrible words, because it's the only way you can get to the editing stage, where the magic really happens.

You won't know your opening line until you write your final line. Another part of that first-draft process is discovering just what your characters and plot are all about. During that creation process, things can and often will change, so let them. Evolution is fun to watch, so let it happen and don't get too hung up on an individual sentence. Once you see how it all plays out and the underlying journey this story takes, that is the moment you will know how your story should start.

If an adverb doesn't bring anything new to the sentence, lose it. I preach this a lot, and I will say it again: Be careful with your adverbs. There's no need to say someone runs quickly, yells loudly, punches hard, etc. Those are givens, and those kinds of adverbs can be quickly disposed of (like the word "quickly" that I just used). If someone runs clumsily, yells drunkenly, or punches wildly, those words bring something new to the table, so they can stay. And on that note...

A good simile is worth a thousand adverbs. Similes and metaphors are great tools for giving voice and feel to your writing, and a good one makes a scene memorable. With our verbs above, if someone runs like a runaway beer truck, yells like a squealing goat, or punches like he just ran into a spider web, the scene sticks with the reader because they attach the verb and the character to an idea. And the more we use similes, the more our creative mind puts odd things together, and this comes through in our writing. 

The last act of finishing your work is the spellchecker - and not a moment before that. Seriously, anyone who has created a large project knows that the repeated edits that go into it make spell-checking entirely useless, because most words will be rewritten anyway. Often, we spell-check just to avoid writing but still feel productive, but it isn't. And if that doesn't convince you, then I should let you know one writer's secret: Every time a writer uses a spellchecker unnecessarily, somewhere a puppy dies. It's true. So don't. 

My next post will have a few more rules for you, but think about these first. Agree with them, challenge them, or reject them - it's up to you. (But I am serious about the puppy thing)        

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