Saturday, September 15, 2007

writing: 5 rules

Orson Scott Card's Characters and Viewpoint is one of many volumes in the Writers Digest "Elements of Fiction Writing" series. It's a hoot.

I mention it here because I know you - the world-weary journeyman product manager - secretly wish you were a writer.

Not just a "the system shall remove hair" and "the system shall not cause sudden onsets of itching where sudden is defined as an unexpected event with a rapid onset" kind of writer.

I mean. . . a real writer. Someone who imagines characters and writes of them and their viewpoints.

Of all the advice I've been given and/or heard on writing, the most frequent is to imagine your characters as well as you can and let them go.

In all fairness, I've also been told that:

1. The first draft of anything is s__t. (attributed to Hemmingway)
2. 90% of everything is crap. (attributed to Sturgeon)
3. You write like an addled radio announcer with ADD and Tourette's. (attributed to my wife)

All probably true.

To this I add the following 5 rules, because I am too damned lazy to come up with 10:

1. If you're going to be a writer, write. Do so every day like it is your job.

2. Set a word count deadline. The nanowrimo people taught me this and it really works.

3. Don't spend more time reading/talking/thinking about writing than you do actually writing.

4. Dare to suck. Put another way, dare to really, truly suck. You only get better by being truly awful first, and intermittently awful as well.

5. Don't talk about what you're writing about. Write it and then let people read it. Letting your creativity out away from the written page is a bit like letting the hot air out of your balloon before you take off.

I'll spare you a description of how I write (the pencil I use, the book I write in, the fez I wear, etc.)

I'll also spare you any sense that I know what I'm talking about - I've not sold a damn thing, but I sure as heck plan on selling something.

When I start my "50k in 30" clock, I'll probably have more to say. Refer to the nanowrimo link above for what that means.

Until then, start writing. It's good for you. And it keeps you fresh for your next round of "the system shall produce a hum with a frequency between 33 and 80 Hertz".


Ron said...

I generally don't like to read the writing of people who write every day like it's a job for many of the same reasons that I do not want a hooker who performs for me under similar strictures. I want a writer who loves me and only me; even though we both know that's an illusion, illusions are what I'm paying for!

Ron said...

I'd love to have some neat-o rules that I could use to write by/to/for, but the 37 selves I have to get to agree to do that mock at such pretentions. Mostly my head makes an Iraqi parliment seem as ordered as its North Korean confrere. It's something to aspire to though!

bob said...

1. When I suggest you write every day "like it's your job", I equate "your job" to "something you do with regularity, commitment and serious intent". If you prefer to use another simile, feel free, especially if "job" carries negative connotations.

2. The exortation to "write every day" is generally given to people who need to develop a habit of writing. Once you have the habit, you don't need to write every day. . . even though that's still a pretty good idea, IMO.

Liz Strauss offers 10 reasons to write every day, which I will include here because I sense you will enjoy them So Very Much.

Writing every day makes us better thinkers. It takes our thoughts out of our heads and challenges us to express them in understandable ways. Effective writing is the opposite of seat-of-the-pants thinking.

Writing every day teaches us how to work with words in print, to construct a meaningful message. Like playing a guitar or doing math, writing takes practice.

Writing every day helps us develop a voice that is natural and consistent, strong and confident, and attuned to readers. Everything we write has an audience. Even when we write for ourselves, we go back to read, listening to what we wrote. We question. We consider. We critique our choices.

Writing every day improves our ability to craft remarkable prose that people want to share. Every time someone shares something that we write they add value to our ideas — when they change them and when they don’t.

Writing every day gets us comfortable with the conventions of writing and the conventions of writing give our messages credibility. The credibility is how society finds the appropriate place for our ideas.

Writing every day lets us find our personal writing process. We lose our fear of flying and learn our way around our creativity. We get familiar with what to do when we need ideas, how to know what we want to say, what is always going to be hard, and what parts are worth looking forward to.

Writing every day teaches us how to tell our internal editor to be quiet until we need feedback.

Writing every day makes us better, more thoughtful readers. We bring the insights and appreciation of a writer to what we read.

Writing every day connects us to people. We meet more people in print than we can ever possibly meet face to face. Many people will know our written voice as well as they know our names.

Writing every day makes us architects and builders. We record our history, and we imagine the future. We inspire and motivate, both ourselves and others. We make something that changes the world, something lasting. We make a unique contribution that others might use.

Ron said...

1.) In the context of writing, yes, "job" has negative connotations.

2.) Writing must be a habit? Like, what, cigarettes?

3.) This list should be its own post.
These are nice life lessons/homilies, but what connection they would have to writing is beyond me.

bob said...

I shall reply!

1. I should have known.
2. A habit like, say, showering.
3. I have to admit that the list does have a few things to say about the value of writing every day to your writing. If you don't like her stuff, try out this pitthy gem from Mr. Chrysler Himself:

The discipline of writing something down is the first step toward making it happen. -- Lee Iacocca

Ron said...

1. Know what?
2. I see no connection between writing that I want to read and nice, neat clean virtues like habituality. Or the lack of habituality either.
3. Like is not the question; what she said is fine. I just don't see any connections to writing at all, and I wish people would stop trying to devolve it.