I believe in rules. I believe in having them, knowing them, and then breaking them in conscious, considered ways when needed. But you can’t break a rule that doesn’t exist.
For me, these writing rules are heuristics. They are tools that can aid learning, exploration, discovery, process management, and problem-solving. I fully expect that they will evolve as I evolve as a writer.
[Remember, though, that the golden rule, as George Bernard Shaw said, is that there is no golden rule. Do what works for you.]
So, here they are:
1. Keep a daily journal. Make it a habit to write down observations till it is instinctual.
2. Read, read, read. Widely, with discrimination, and as a masterclass in writing.
3. Keep filling the well with new life experiences and other storytelling media like TV/film.
4. Maintain a daily discipline of writing. Organize the rest of your life around this time and space, not vice versa. Protect this time and space even from those who love you and want the best for you. Show up daily.
5. Hang around with people who think writing is worthy of your time and attention.
6. Start with writing GOOD sentences. Master the craft, rhythm, and flow of sentences.
7. Every sentence must move the story forward or reveal character. Focus narrative energy, pace, and tension around points of change (h/t Kurt Vonnegut; Hilary Mantel).
8. Have at least 2 rather different kinds of writing projects ongoing so that you can avoid ego depletion by switching as needed.
9. Fiction, or any writing really, that does not help the writer cognitively reframe his/her perceptions of the world and self is not worth the effort.
10. Pick the unknown yet knowable area of experience that’s going to enhance your understanding of the world and write about that (h/t Rose Tremain). Creative writing should not be about “self-expression” or “catharsis”. That’s what journals, friends, and therapists are for. Be more ambitious with your writing goals — always punch up.