brni (brni) wrote,

The Writer's Code: the 10 Rules Meme

There's a meme going 'round, sparked off by the Guardian piece in which a number of writers give their 10 rules for writers. And while one of my high school teachers once sent me home with a progress report that stated, "Bernie does not march to the beat of a different drummer; he dances to the sound of a distant piccolo," I feel myself compelled to join the parade.

But before I launch into this, I must quote the second most famous pirate of all time:

And thirdly, the code is more what you'd call "guidelines" than actual rules. Welcome aboard.

So, here goes:

1) Write.

2) Don't just think about writing, or stare at a screen knowing that if you can just get through this one scene, you'll be able to continue. Write.

3) Listen to your dreams, day or night. Write them down. This sometimes means getting up in the wee hours and sitting, shivering, wrapped in a blanket in the dark of the living room with the glow of the laptop computer illuminating your face, and writing until you have all the stuff you need down. This means ignoring your spousal unit when s/he calls out with annoyance from the bedroom. This sometimes means heading straight from the shower to the computer and trying to write your ideas down before they disappear while trying not to drip on the keyboard, and then discovering that you still have soap in your ear. Don't worry about it; the soap will wash off, even after it dries. It sometimes means pulling over on the side of the road and scribbling frantically into a notebook as the rush of passing trucks rocks your car.

4) (Taken from Steven Brust, somewhere along the line) Write what you think is cool. If you think it is cool, there will be other people who think it's cool. If you don't think it's cool, nobody else will.

5) Find a Writing Place that works for you. For me, a semi-crowded coffee shop works perfectly. The multiple conversations around me act as a white noise when I need to concentrate, and a resource when I need a tone, a phrase, a gesture or expression that just isn't coming to me. In a quieter space, I find that the tap of a single person's fingers on a keyboard, the rustle of a page turned or clink of a coffee cup, the sound of the dog getting up, stretching, and lying down again become distractions that block writing. But that's just me. Other people will need other surroundings.

6) Do not read anything while you are writing that is similar stylistically to your current project or that deals with the same themes, tropes, etc. I find that when I do that, little bits of that other writer gets mixed in with my story, and I cannot disentangle the two. I think this is because, for me, much of what I write gestates in dreamland, and when I read a really good story, I tend to dream about it, as well. If there are too many similarities, dream-logic starts intermingling them. I end up putting aside either the book I'm reading or the story I'm writing so that I can create distance between the two.

    6a) If you are going to read something, read things that are not related to what you are working on. Pay attention to the pieces of what you are reading that could be used to create an interesting twist in your own work.

    6b) A friend of mine has the opposite view of this - read things that are similar stylistically and thematically to what you are working on. She says that it gives her insight of how particular blocks can be dealt with effectively. (By "blocks" I mean the places where we get stuck, either "where do I go from here," or "no matter how many times I rewrite this passage, it still sucks.")

7) Listen to your characters. They know what they want better than you do.

8) Make your villains real. Give them real desires and real needs and real personality. The villain is more important than the hero; the villain, in a sense, defines the hero, and when the villain is a two-dimensional cardboard caricature, the story will fall flat. If you can get your reader to empathize with the villain at least once in the story, you're likely to have a decent story.

9) Don't run out of coffee (or tea). Remember to eat once in a while, too.

10) Don't let anything distract away from your writing time, including (especially) Internet memes that require you to write up lists of rules.
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