I’ve been so inspired by the Brain Pickings weekly installments of Rules of Writing (that link goes to Neil Gaiman’s 8 rules), that I decided to come up with my own rules of writing that I’ve learned over the last 25 years (sweet Jebus! that’s a lot).
1. Write like real people speak. Your 7th grade English teacher didn’t know shit about real writing. If you have to contort your sentences to fit what she taught, drop it. Say your thoughts out loud, and write them down.
2. Short words, short sentences, short paragraphs. Write like a journalist, not a college professor. Smart people sound smarter when they can make difficult things easy to understand.
3. There is no such thing as inspiration, just like there’s no such thing as writer’s block. Real writers sit down and do it every day. It’s a job. You start, you do the work, you stop (sort of). Accountants don’t get accountant’s block. Plumber’s don’t wait for inspiration. They do their job because they have to. So it goes with writers.
4. Write with a pen, never a pencil. Pencils don’t require you to commit to your ideas. You can erase a pencil, you have to scribble out a pen. At least then you can see evidence of your thought process.
5. Never write for other people. Write for you. Write the stuff you want to read. If you write for other people, you’ll never make anyone happy, including yourself. If you write for you, at least someone will be happy.
6. Read poetry. Listen to music by poets and songwriters. Start thinking in metaphors. Even the most boring non-fiction can liven up with a few metaphors. And if you don’t like poetry, listen to some Tom Waits albums. I’m particular to Nighthawks At The Diner and the song “Putnam County.” Now that’s some poetry.
7. Don’t assume you don’t need marketing. “My work should stand on its own merit” is the mating call of the coward. If they don’t promote their work, people won’t find it, and they can protect their fragile ego. Promote your work and get people’s opinions. It will make you a better writer.
8. “Write drunk, edit sober” (Peter DeVries originally said a version of this, not Ernest Hemingway.). This doesn’t extol the virtues of drinking and writing. Rather, it means alcohol lowers our inhibitions. That’s when our real essence comes out, and we write (and act) like we don’t have those voices and filters that keep the “real” us from coming out. Write like you’ve been drinking a little bit, and then edit like it’s the next morning. Don’t smooth everything back to “normal.” Knock off the rough edges, and keep the best stuff.