Friday, November 5, 2010

Writing Rules--Polysemously!

“There are three rules for writing the novel.
Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.”
W. Somerset Maugham

I heard Maugham’s quote in San Diego at the Southern California Writing Conference last February on more than one occasion, with some broad extensions like writing query letters and synopses (the topic of a blog to come). I’d attend one session, taking copious notes on writing tips and insights, only to find myself sometimes writing contradictory information in another session.

At the “Wrangling with Writing” Conference in Tucson in September, we had a luncheon speaker, Bob Mayer, who told us he posted his writing rules in his office so he sees them every day.I listened hard, but he didn’t tell us what they were so we could all make matching posters. A real entrepreneur would have sold the posters to us were he so inclined. You like the speaker, you want his rules.

From the conflicting perspectives I encountered, the conclusion I drew was that writing is so highly individualized that one author’s “three rules” might vary widely from another’s. Which is what Maugham meant. Oh, of course there are commonalities. Character drives the good novel, not plot. You will revise until you can’t revise anymore, and then you will do it again. Stuff like that.

I set out to figure out my rules. I wanted to post something, too. It gave me something to do, something tangible to show for my time after applying the “bum glue” to my chair. And it looks impressive to have rules you adhere to. It seems to professionalize me, especially on days when I struggle with revisions or plot points that don’t point very straight.

So, not to be coy, here is what my set of “rules”/ guidelines/foci, etc. look like:

Writing is your job. It comes first. Don’t allow anything else to interfere or “call in sick”.

Writing is no different than any other profession. The more you write, the better you become, so write every day.

Set daily writing goals (pages, hours, or words) and meet them even when you don’t want to. Apply a liberal dose of Bryce Courtenay’s “bum glue”; glue self to seat and write.

Have a single sentence that tells about your current project and post it to keep your focus.

Do a lot of prep before writing (outline, journal, scene sets, etc.) and then enhance as you write.

Learn something about the craft of writing every day and blog about it.

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