Writing Rules: Keep a light, hopeful heart. But expect the worst.

Hi pals, Did you guys read this article in the Guardian with all the writing rules from big time authors?

Interesting stuff, huh?

I have to say my favorite is the Joyce Carol Oates quote, the one I used in the title of this post. "Keep a light, hopeful heart. But expect the worst." I think that attitude is the only way to keep from going nuts as you slog through a rewrite or wait to hear back from submissions. It's these sorts of "writing rules" that I like, the ones that sound like a writer's little reminders to themselves. You can almost picture them on a post it note stuck on the corner of their computer screen as they work. They give a little window into the writers themselves and let you feel a fleeting solidarity with someone that you usually just idolize. It's the piddling and overly proscriptive rules that make me bristle. Don't use adverbs. Only use "said" in dialogue. Don't bother describing things. I mean, I like Elmore Leonard and all but his rules are like this. I think a book written to his rules would be something I'd admire but could never really love. Too dry for me. (As an aside, is it me or do his rules also kind of read as tough guy posturing? What? Describing things is for pansies? Please.)

Anyway I got to thinking what my writing rules would be. What are the little reminders that I'd stick on the corner of my screen...?

Here are mine.

1) A book is characters, story and language. In that order. (Quick aside. Story and character are and should be intertwined. Characters are defined by their choices. They're choices are the building blocks of a story. My slight emphasis is on character because books that emphasize story over character are like these Elmore Leonard books, I may like and admire them but I'll never love them.)

2) I had an acting teacher once who told me that my only responsibility during rehearsal was to find one new thing each night. That's all. Ultimately, he said, a performance is the sum of these small discoveries . Same thing with writing. Accomplish at least one positive thing for your book each day. Craft a revealing character moment, write a particularly nice bit of description or dialogue, discover an unexpected or illuminating twist in the story. Hang in there long enough and these small moments will eventually build a book.

3) No matter how hard you think you have to work, you always have to work harder.

4) Almost anything can be made better by being made shorter.

5) Consume stories in every way you can. Yes, you must read everything, that goes without saying, but don't forget to also watch good movies, see plays and dance and opera, go to museums, watch quality TV.

6) Have the courage to find people who are smarter than you and get them to read your work. Listen to them.

7) Sometimes the best thing to do for your writing is to step away.

8) When faced with the necessity of cutting what you're sure is the most beautiful, poignant passage you've ever written, have faith that if you did it once you can do it again.

9) Sometimes you have to write very badly for a very long time before you ever get any good.

10) Yes, there are people for whom all of this comes incredibly easy. These people are freaks. Don't compare yourself to them.

So that's me. Anybody care to share a few of theirs?