by Margie Lawson
Have you ever researched writing rules? Wowzee! There are hundreds of them. If you tried to follow them all you’d be paralyzed.
But some are so make-you-and-your-writing-stronger smart, they’re worth sharing.
Take what fits and ignore the rest.
We’ll start with some popular ones that you probably know. It’s always good to be reminded.
“I’m convinced that fear is at the root of most bad writing. Dumbo got airborne with the help of a magic feather; you may feel the urge to grasp a passive verb or one of those nasty adverbs for the same reason. Just remember before you do that Dumbo didn’t need the feather; the magic was in him.”
“The first draft of a book—even a long one—should take no more than three months, the length of a season.”
“If you’ve never done it before, you’ll find reading your book over after a six-week layoff to be a strange, often exhilarating experience. It’s yours, yet it will also be like reading the work of someone else, a soul-twin, perhaps. This is the way it should be, the reason you waited. It’s always easier to kill someone else’s darlings that it is to kill your own.”
“Mostly when I think of pacing, I go back to Elmore Leonard, who explained it so perfectly by saying he just left out the boring parts. This suggests cutting to speed the pace, and that’s what most of us end up having to do (kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.)”
“Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends. In the end, it’s about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well. It’s about getting up, getting well, and getting over. Getting happy, okay?”
“When you’re stuck, and sure you’ve written absolute garbage, force yourself to finish and THEN decide to fix or scrap it - or you will never know if you can.”
“You have to get to a very quiet place inside yourself. And that doesn’t mean that you can’t have noise outside. I know some people who put Jazz on, loudly, to write. I think each writer has her or his secret path to the muse.”
“You can’t wait for inspiration, you have to go after it with a club.”
“If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.”
Our last set of writing rules is from Neil Gaiman.
“Fiction stories are one of the most interesting phenomena that human beings have…Stories are part of us, and we convey truth with stories, which is fundamentally the most gloriously giant contradiction that you can ever imagine. What we’re saying is, we are using lies, we’re using memorable lies, we are taking people who do not exist and things that did not happen to those people in places that aren’t, and we are using those things to communicate true things to kids and to each other.”
“The hardest time for me was starting out as a very, very young writer. I wrote short stories and sent them out to places that could conceivably publish them, and they all came back. And I looked at the stories which went out and came back and went out and came back, and I thought, ‘Okay, well one of two things is true here. Either I’m not good enough or I don’t understand the world, there’s stuff I don’t get, there’s stuff I need to know.’”
“Everything you encounter in life has the potential to influence your work: overheard dialogue in a coffee shop, that song on the radio you can’t get out of your head, the television scene that perfectly depicts the sexual tension of a first date. Don’t limit yourself to only the influences in your genre. Drink from a wide-brimmed glass of creative inspiration.”
“Every story contains a snapshot of its creator. Are you refusing to pose for that picture? Give your readers what they want: a story with personality and authenticity.”
“People are so much more interesting and strange and more unlikely than anything you could make up. Strange people and stories are all around you. You just need to take the time to look for them. Great characters and stories are borne from true characters and true stories.”
“I would much rather not tell you how to feel about something. I would rather you just felt it. I will tell you what happens, and if I leave you crying because I just killed a unicorn, I’m not gonna tell you how sad the death of the unicorn was. I’m gonna kill that unicorn, and I’m gonna break your heart.”
“I think as a writer, and especially as a young writer, your job is to get the bad words out, the bad sentences out, the stories that aren’t any good yet. You think it’s a great story, you think it’s a great idea, you think it’s good at least — and it may be — but the most important thing is just you got it out.”
“After you’ve written 10,000 words, 30,000 words, 60,000 words, 150,000 words, a million words, you will have your voice, because your voice is the stuff you can’t help doing.”
“Everything is driven by want. Everything is driven by need. And everything is driven by characters wanting different things, and those different things colliding. And every moment that one character wants something and another character wants something mutually exclusive and they collide, every time that happens, you have a story.”
“When you have a lot of characters wandering around, you need to help your reader…And one of the ways that I’ve always liked to do that is what I call ‘funny hats’…You give your character something that makes that character different from every other character in the book.”
“The process of doing your second draft is a process of making it look like you knew what you were doing all along.”
“You always have to remember when people tell you that something doesn’t work for them, that they’re right. It doesn’t work for them. You also have to remember that when people tell you what they think is wrong and how you should fix it, that they’re almost always wrong. If you try and fix things their way, you’ll be writing their story, and you have to write yours.”
“It’s like you’re a smash-and-grab robber. You are gonna put that brick through the window, then you’re gonna reach in and grab everything that you need and run away and use it, because honestly, you don’t want to spend ten years researching manners and morays in British public schools of the 1870s in order to get your story perfect.”
I’ll remember that smash-and-grab robber. I bet you will too!
Some of those rules may help you get through a tough patch or a tough scene. You may want to review the rules I shared and create your own list.
This piece you read from Stephen King may be worth printing in large font and putting it up where you’ll see it every day.
IT’S YOUR TURN!
Want to share a writing rule that speaks to you?
Post a comment – and you’ll be in the drawing for the course I’m teaching this month:
Not Your Mama’s Character Descriptions!
That’s a $120 value!
The drawing will be at 8:00 p.m. Mountain Time. Class starts today, so the winner can pop in class tomorrow.
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Margie Lawson left a career in psychology to focus on another passion—helping writers make their writing bestseller strong. Using a psychologically based deep-editing approach, Margie teaches writers how to bring emotion to the page. Emotion equals power. Power grabs readers and holds onto them until the end. Hundreds of Margie grads have gone on to win awards, find agents, sign with publishers, and hit bestseller lists. Some have had their books turned into Hallmark movies, and a few have drama series in development.
A popular international presenter, Margie has taught over 150 full-day master classes in the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and France, as well as multi-day intensives on cruise ships in the Caribbean. She’s taught close to 200 Immersion Master Classes across the U.S. and Canada, and in seven cities in Australia too.
She also founded Lawson Writer's Academy, where you’ll find over 30 instructors teaching online courses through her website. To learn more and sign up for Margie’s newsletter, visit www.margielawson.com.
Top image via Canva.
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