Fiction writing rules in the National Post online
Taking a cue from the Guardian’s Rules for Writers series in the U.K., Brad Frenette, at the National Post and its Afterword blog, asked the authors of the eight shortlisted books for Canada Also Reads to submit their own fiction writing rules. My contribution, hastily considered and created to meet the National Post’s deadline, appeared on the Afterword blog this morning. Who am I to be cooking up writing rules anyway. But I always try to do what I’m told.
So, here are my ten rules, such as they are:
- Very few rules apply to all writers. Every writer is different, so only observe these rules if they happen to work for you. If they donâ€™t, make up your own rules to break.
- Create a quiet, comfortable space for writing. Then, write there often. If thatâ€™s too regimented, carry a notebook and try writing wherever you find yourself, whether itâ€™s Starbucks or the JiffyLube when your car is up on the hoist. As well, write in stretches of at least four hours so that you can get into a groove and not feel rushed or forced by the clock. If you donâ€™t have four hours anywhere in your life, try writing in short snippets and see if that works.
- Iâ€™m an â€œoutlinerâ€ so I favour investing the time up front to map out a story in considerable detail. For writers with a fulltime job and not enough spare time for writing (like me!), I find you can maximize efficiency if you know what happens and where youâ€™re going in each chapter. If that doesnâ€™t work, try starting with a blank page and follow where your story leads you. This seems to work for many writers, though itâ€™s a foreign concept to me.
- Read. I donâ€™t know many great writers who arenâ€™t also great readers. Although I do know lots of readers who arenâ€™t writers. What was my point again? Oh yes. Reading is professional development for writers. In other careers, people go to conferences and take courses. Writers read. (Having said that, Iâ€™ve spoken at a few writers conferences and will be teaching a course in the fall, so what do I know?)
- Worry less about finding an agent or publisher, and more about your manuscript. (I know, I know, easy for me to say.) But most agents will tell you itâ€™s really all about writing. Landing an agent and/or publisher will be easier if your manuscript is as good as it can be.
- When your manuscript is finished, for the first time, let it sit for a couple of weeks before you return to it. Time inflicts distance and perspective, which almost always inform and aid editing.
- Read your writing aloud. Youâ€™d be surprised how often I rearrange a sentence or choose a different word after hearing my writing, rather just looking at it. It was one of the benefits of podcasting my first novel before it was ever a book.
- Print out your manuscript-in-progress once in a while. Itâ€™s easier to read it, and the growing stack of paper provides a sense of progress and satisfaction that can help you through the home stretch.
- Visualize the scenes youâ€™re writing as if youâ€™re a movie director. This will add realism to your words, and help you decide what to describe and what not to. If it helps, go ahead and cast major stars as the main characters so you can see them in your mind.
- I know this seems like a drag and may appear to contradict Rule #5 above, but when your book is written, commit as much effort to promoting your book as you did to writing it. Build an audience by using the online tools to which we all now have ready access, like podcasting and blogging. Offer to do readings at libraries and book clubs. Enter your book in competitions and awards. Sit on panels. Get out there, even if itâ€™s uncomfortable. Publishers like it when you do this because you sell more books. And, you get better at it with practice. You might even come to enjoy it. I know I have.
On Monday, March 1, the essays defending each of the Canada Also Reads finalists begin. TBLP is being defended by singer/songwriter and all-round great guy, Andy Maize of the Skydiggers. I’m not sure which day his essay will run but you can bet it will commemorated on this humble blog.