February 2012

In almost any type of how-to article or book, readers will find lists of what to do and what to avoid.  If you want to succeed at whatever the expert is advising you about, do this and don’t do that.

  • runners must wear the correct shoes
  • painters need the right brushes
  • cooks should use thick, solid pans
  • gardeners ought to test their soil

Writing instruction comes with similar guidance.

In a new article from Writer’s Digest, ten writers examine ten well-known rules. I was pleased to see I own books from three of the experts, James Scott Bell, Natalie Goldberg and Donald Maass.

The rules they analyze, and give both pro and con opinions about, are:

  1. Write What You Know.
  2. Hook Your Readers on Page 1.
  3. Show, Don’t Tell.
  4. Write “Shitty First Drafts.” (Really, do you have a choice?)
  5. Write EVERY DAY.
  6. Kill Your Darlings.
  7. Develop a Thick Skin.
  8. Silence Your Inner Critic.
  9. Read What you Like to Write.
  10. If You Want to Get Rich, Do Something Else.

My own short viewpoints on the rules are:

  1. Write about what captures your attention.
  2. Make page 1 as interesting as possible.
  3. Show for depth, and tell for speed.
  4. Don’t allow foolish errors in your first draft; you may overlook them in revision.
  5. Increase your word count every day you’re able.
  6. Write your best, but don’t make one section gorgeous at the expense of other parts.
  7. Use your sensitivity to improve your writing, but remember it’s only writing.
  8. Make an appointment with your inner critic.  Later, let her do her best to improve the piece.
  9. Read.
  10. I already didn’t amass riches doing “something else,” so you’ll have to look elsewhere for advice about #10.

Without guidelines, projects wouldn’t be well-built.  Houses aren’t constructed without blueprints for the builders.  Appliances aren’t assembled without schematics for the machinists. Creatures don’t grow without DNA to guide the cells.  That said, there’s always room for evolution and innovation, so use the “rules” as guidelines, then experiment and evolve.

Click on over to the article to read what the Real Experts say.

In this morning’s newspaper, I read that Dorothy Gilman, the author of the Mrs. Pollifax spy stories, died last week.  So sorry to read that.

Dorothy Gilman, ‘Mrs. Pollifax’ Novelist, Dies at 88