Tag Archives: Rules

General ‘rules’ of writing

The cutlery of writing

In my house we have no dishwasher, or conversely you could say we have two dishwashers, and we both pay rent. When we have used up every cup and plate in the house and can go no longer without washing, it is the cutlery that is the most heartbreakingly tedious part of the task.

Self-editing is the cutlery of writing.

Many writers hate to edit their work, especially longer pieces of writing, and a lot of new writers are tempted to skip it altogether. That is a great decision to make if you are a) a genius, or b) trying to increase your collection of rejection letters. For the rest of us it is not a good tactic.

Aside from the typos and homonyms that you will leave behind, there will be superfluous words, repeated words, tense changes, point of view slips or even character name cock-ups (yes guilty, I had Brent and Brant in a story and they were actually the same person). The only way to find all these problems is to edit your work, edit it again, put it down, let it rest, mature, ferment and then… edit again.

Many writers set time limits on how long they need to wait after finishing a piece before they can send it out to ensure they have distanced themselves enough to give it a proper edit. Others actually set numbers of edits required (7 I’ve read for a lot of novel writers). When starting out you don’t need to be that regimented, but more than one edit is a must, and at least 24 hours of sitting time is also mandatory! But more on both accounts will only improve your final product.

Don’t sell yourself short, it takes a lot to finish a story, so don’t undermine all that hard work by putting it out there before it is ready. You can burn the perfect market or worse, you can have your substandard work published! It is much better to have a clean manuscript that is ready to send out a few weeks later, than a flawed one that is ready to go now!

Happy editing (and give thanks for your dishwasher),

Nat

The reading writer

I’ve mentioned before that I believe you should read lots to become a better writer. In fact I’d probably say it was one of my golden rules of writing, but what I have failed to say is that writers should read widely and outside of their comfort zones. So if you are a science fiction writer, read a romance, read a classic, read a thriller or read a book on financial intelligence.

I generally try to alternate between fiction and non-fiction, as well as sampling a good mix of biographies. Books that have been highly recommended or books that have been on the best seller list will also make it onto my reading list, no matter how uninteresting I find the topic. Those books you read to understand what it is about them that won them such a special place in their reader’s heart.

Many writers say they don’t read because they don’t want to influence their writing style or inadvertently steal ideas. The thing is, reading other people’s writing has so much it can teach you. Fictional works can show you styles and techniques that you might not have considered, non-fictional work gives you plenty of material for story ideas, and biographies help to give you ideas for realistic, complicated and well developed characters.

So I’ve thrown a few links to non-fiction books below. These are non-fiction books I’ve really enjoyed and learned a lot from, but the list is endless and your local library will allow you to freely sample books to which you might be otherwise disinclined to commit.

Rick Smith & Bruce Lourie – Slow death by rubber duck
Simon Nasht – Huber Wilkins the last explorer
William Goldman – Which lie did I tell? More adventures in the screen trade
Stephen King – On Writing

Hubert Wilkins
Which Lie Did I Tell? More adventures in the screen trade

So remember; read widely, read recklessly and read openly.

Happy reading,

Nat

He said, she said

Embarrassing but true; one of the biggest mistakes we all make when we first start writing is with our speech tags. There is the tendency to make our characters cry, yell, exclaim, retort, whisper, slur, snap or beg.

The truth is said can cover all these things and many more. The action surrounding the speech, or the punctuation used should be enough to indicate if something is a question or if it is said in anger. You do not need the fluff!

We learn pretty quickly that repeated words look weird on the page, and some can “sound” weird in the reader’s mind if repeated too closely on the page (or horror of horrors, in the same paragraph), but ‘said’ is a strangely invisible word. Just like the character’s name in a story, it is one of those words that the brain will happily skip over, no matter how often it is repeated.

If you don’t believe me pick up the book you are currently reading (unless you are reading ‘The Dummy’s Guide to Mulching’ or some other non-fiction book) and turn to a page of dialogue. Pay attention to the number of saids on the page. Stand out like dogs… bowls, eh? Imagine if the writer had highlighted all those tags by using words like ‘gasped’ or ‘chortled’ it would have looked a bit clunky!

So as much as it can kill you when you are starting out, drop the superfluous speech tags and go with said. Then you will also be able to more easily see all the places where you don’t actually need any speech tags at all. Trust me, your writing will be much stronger for it.

“And that’s all I have to say on that topic,” said Nat.

The Waiting Game

The fact is you have three options for publication;

  • Get others to publish your work
  • Publish it yourself
  • Don’t publish

Given that a lot of us are trying for the first option, it means those who do the publishing have a lot of options. A **LOT** of options. So when they put out a call for submissions (and even when they don’t) they have hundreds or thousands of pieces to choose from.

Most publishers will also insist on no multiple or simultaneous submissions (that is, you need to wait for them to reject/accept your story before you can submit another, and what you submit must not be on offer to any other publisher). This can mean your story can take years to do the rounds, and for a novel, double that.

The longest I’ve ever waited for a publisher to get back to me (not including those who just didn’t get back to me) is twelve months. Others in my writers group have waited two years. I wrote a virus story which I sent off to a magazine, six months before the movie ‘Outbreak’ was released. Suddenly my story got rejected saying it had already been done. Not six months earlier when I sent it! Grrrr.

I think all writers have at some point fantasised about the day when they can pick and choose their publisher, especially after a nine month wait with only a form letter rejection at the end. But the reality is, there are thousands of writers out there trying to get published. I actually heard a publisher once lament that there seemed to be more people writing books than reading them. So if you decided to hold a grudge against everyone who left you waiting too long, you would end up with the entire publishing community on your black list.

So I guess what I’m trying to say is the waiting game is part of the writing game, and it is probably this more than anything that sends so many people to ebooks as an alternative. But, to those of you who are currently going through this, take heart in fact that the length of your wait is not indicative of your chance at success. Some of my acceptances came in the same week I submitted them, while just as many others have taken well over three months. The key is keep writing, if you have lots of stories circulating, then the wait is not so obvious.

Happy writing!

Nat

The Golden Rule of Writing

A few weeks ago I talked about the importance of keeping your eye open for accidental homonyms, but I realised that piece of advice was really most important for those of you who want to get published. What about those of you who are just interested in getting started in writing?

Well for you I would like to pass on this piece of advice, perhaps the number one golden rule for writing; give yourself permission to write crap. Yes, you read that correctly. The most important thing about writing is… writing. So if you want to write, then you need to… (you guessed it) write. Getting words on the page is the only thing that will make you a writer, and it is the only thing that will get your story finished.

If you start editing and labouring over getting the perfect turn of phrase from line one, after several hours of ‘writing’ you might find yourself with one lovely paragraph and not much more. To make matters even worse, the next day when you look at that previously perfect paragraph, you will see that it is very overwritten, you will hate it, and spend your next night’s writing trying to fix it up.

Even if you do still love that paragraph, a perfect paragraph does not tell the story (unless you are writing flash fiction). You will still have a long way to go and will more than likely burn out before you get to the end.

If you give yourself permission to write badly, then you can concentrate on getting the story out of your head and onto the page where it belongs. Only once it is finished should you go back and start your edit, and let me stress here that you SHOULD go back and edit your work.

So I guess really there are two golden rules here; give yourself permission to write badly, and never send off a first draft! Editing can be tedious and frustrating, but it is also necessary if you are serious about making your writing the best that it can be.

By the way, my ‘fear’ that I faced this week was signing up for my new web hosting service. So now I’m committed to my new website, very exciting!

Nat

The Horrors of Homonyms

Someone recently asked me for some advice about writing and getting published. I know, get back on your chair, I was surprised too! But I wanted to take this seriously so I had a long think about what pearls I could pass on. I know I am no expert, but I have read enough books and spent enough hours with writers to have picked up a thing or two, so I tried to think about the most important ‘rules’.

The thing that kept coming back to me is every rule is there to be broken. I could tell of the pitfalls of point of view slips, the danger of dangling modifiers, the crime of clichés or even how trite it is to marry adjectives to nouns based on them sharing the same first letter. But the cold, hard fact is that I could also show you countless number-one bestselling novels that do all these things in abundance and no one gives a rat’s patooty.

But there is one error that many first time writers (myself included) make that will preclude you from the best seller list; the misplaced homonym. Here are some examples:

  • She drew an ark around them – what, a picture of a boat? That would be arc.
  • The waves crashed on the beech – unless a tree was growing on the beach you want to swap the ‘e’ for an ‘a’. 
  • He was such a boar – unless you are trying to say he was a pig, it would be bore.
  • She lifted the vile to her lips – the contents might be gross, but the receptacle itself would be a vial.

I could go on, but there are smarter people than me who have dedicated full websites to this, so I’ll leave you to explore them. The point is, spell check does not pick them up, even fancy new Word doesn’t get them all. So keep an eye out for these little devils because they can pull the reader right out of the story, and anything that pulls the reader out is working against you.

Now eye knead two go and do sum righting…

Nat

PS My online story is brewing; if you would like to register to receive the updates please send me an email (including your email address) via my website (click here).