Writing Rules – How Not to Suck At the Work

So far in 2011 I’ve only made a few resolutions (six or so to be exact). One of those resolutions is to write 365,000 words in the year 2011. It is now January 12th and I am less than 200 words shy of 25,000 words. I started my second novel about six days ago and I’m already 15,000 words into the thing.

So far, I’d say my system is working pretty well. Thank you Stephen King and Andre Dubus III for what you taught me, but here is what I’ve learned on my own.

1) Sit in the Chair EARLY –

I know a good amount of people who might disagree, (but I work all day, but I like to sleep in, yadda yadda) and you’re welcome to your night time writing sessions – as long as you’re actually writing during them and not curling up in bed to read or watch TV instead. This is my problem. If the sky is dark, I don’t want to sit at my desk, I want to curl up and get warm and cozy with the boob tube or the Niffenegger novel I’m currently reading. Yet, if I get up in the morning – before my daughter wakes up, before the dogs go scampering downstairs for their morning walk, before my house greets the day – I have my quota done before the world even knows I’m out of bed and I can greet the rest of the day without having this ‘thing’ (the daily quota I’ve yet to meet) hovering over my head.

2) Don’t Edit –

Some might disagree with this as well, but let’s be honest, if it works for me after fifteen years of never being able to finish a single story I started, then we have serious evidence of its merit. Let yourself write shit. Let yourself struggle and fight tooth and nail for every single fucking word you put to the paper, just don’t let yourself fret over what you’ve already produced. There will be plenty of time to do that later…when you’re done. And let’s be honest, if you re-edit and re-edit your first chapter until it is perfect you might, like me, lose steam and leave the project for four years, or continue on, learning the details, quirks and layers of your characters as you write them throughout the book only to realize that this perfect, pristine chapter you created months ago now needs to be completely rewritten because the events and actions are entirely out of character for your NOW realized characters. Let the story unfold. Don’t get all origami on it mid way through.

3) Don’t Beat Yourself Up –

Halfway through the book – hell three pages into it or three pages from the end – if you’re like me and, I believe, every other writer to ever put words to paper, there is going to come a moment when you suddenly realize YOU are a complete hack and shouldn’t be allowed to speak, let alone tell stories. This moment might be inspired by a severely difficult passage that took you hours to write only to find it was about 300 words long. I will quote an amazing pep talk letter I received from NaNoWriMo this past year. “Your readers can’t tell if the writing came easily or not.” Only you know the difficulty you might have had. Difficulty isn’t the gauge by which you should judge the quality of your writing. And again, in the end, editing will do that thing – you know, that thing with wheat and chafe and curds and whey and such? Yeah, that’ll happen. So, let it.

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