Showing posts with label rules of writing. Show all posts
Showing posts with label rules of writing. Show all posts

Friday, January 27

The Structure of a Great Story: How to Write a Suspenseful Tale!

The Structure of a Great Story: How to Write a Suspenseful Tale!

I did it!! Finally! I just finished the book I’ve wanted to write for YEARS: The Structure of a Great Story: How to Write a Suspenseful Tale!

If you’ve read my blog for awhile you know my personal story. Ever since I can remember I’ve wanted to know what makes one story unputdownable and another a cure for insomnia. I’m sure this could be several things—including the author’s writing style! But often the difference is that one story has the right meter, the right patterns, a natural rise and fall of action and inaction, of taking chances and facing consequences, while the other doesn’t.

That said, I’ve read books and watched movies where what should have been a gripping tale left me cold. Also, stories that made NO sense in terms of how they were structured ended up being highly entertaining. I want to stress that there is no guarantee any particular story one writes will be interesting to any other particular person. Just like I can chat with two different people at a party and they each come away with wildly different opinions of me, so a story can make wildly different impressions on any one reader. Given this it’s obvious there’s no such thing as ONE structure, or set of structures, that is guaranteed to make a story enjoyable for everyone.

But even so, even admitting this, there are certain rules of thumb that can make any story more suspenseful and easier to read. That’s the sort of thing I’ve been interested in learning, in documenting.

It’s time for me to stop rambling on about the book and present you with an excerpt!

Although there's no secret formula that will generate a best selling story, I believe that often repeated saying: knowledge is power. In this case, knowledge of the craft of writing. This knowledge gives us the power to change, the power to improve. But knowledge only goes so far; it has to be paired with practice.

The stories I focus on in the following pages are often called genre stories. They're stories filled with suspense, the kind that keep decent hardworking folk up till indecent hours, unable to put their book down until they discover what happened, whether the hero found the treasure and saved the day or lost everything in a fiery inferno of regret.

I don't claim to know everything about writing and this slim volume does not contain the sum total of writing wisdom, far from it. I started blogging about writing in 2010 because I believed that, as Seneca wrote, "by teaching we are learning." This book grew from that quest.
 I believe the key to writing good genre fiction is to create complex, compelling, characters, put them in an interesting yet hostile setting, introduce believable opposition with clear stakes, and wrap it all up in a well thought-out plot.

In other words, the key to writing great genre fiction is to write a great story.

If you would like a free copy of my book in return for your opinion of it please contact me at Thanks!

Every post I pick something I love and recommend it. This serves two purposes. I want to share what I’ve loved with you, and, if you click the link and buy anything over at Amazon within the next 24 hours, Amazon puts a few cents in my tip jar at no cost to you. So, if you click the link, thank you! If not, that’s okay too. I’m thrilled and honored you’ve visited my blog and read my post.

Today I'm recommending Creating Unforgettable Characters, by Linda Seger. Dr. Linda Seger has worked on over 2,000 scripts! She even worked with Ray Bradbury. Yes, this book focuses on screenplays as opposed to novels, but it contains a lot of good information.

That's it! I'll talk to you again on Monday, I hope you have a great weekend. In the meantime, good writing!

Monday, October 20

On Breaking The Rules of Writing: It’s All On The Table

On Breaking The Rules of Writing: It’s All On The Table

I’m a rebel at heart. I like it when writers break so-called rules and still produce a stunning piece of writing.

The Rule: Never begin a story with a character waking

For example, Gillian Flynn opens “Gone Girl” with a character waking. As I write this I realize someone might protest that “Gone Girl” begins with three paragraphs of Nick Dunne’s musings about his wife’s head, it’s shape and possible contents. But then, after these 185 words, Gillian Flynn writes:

“My eyes flipped open at exactly six A.M. This was no avian fluttering of the lashes, no gentle blink toward consciousness. The awakening was mechanical. A spooky ventriloquist-dummy click of the lids: The world is black and then, showtime! 6-0-0 the clock said—in my face, first thing I saw. 6-0-0. It felt different. I rarely woke at such a rounded time. I was a man of jagged risings: 8:43, 11:51, 9:26. My life was alarmless.”

And then, after this paragraph about Nick Dunne waking up, we get a paragraph about the weather! And you know what? Not only does it work but it is some of the most beautiful, alive, witty prose I’ve read in a long time.

The Rule: Never have your narrator address the reader directly

Another thing we’re told not to do, something that irks many readers enough to fling their books (or eReaders) across the room, is when (Dear Reader) the writer—or, really, the narrator—addresses the reader directly.

I’ve started reading P.G. Wodehouse, perhaps as a reaction to the delicious darkness of “Gone Girl”. I’ve broken into his corpus by way of his Jeeves books (specifically, “Thank You, Jeeves.”)

Here’s an example of what I mean. The narrator is Bertram (Bertie) Wooster.

“I wonder if you would mind just going back a bit and running the mental eye over that part of our conversation which had had to do with the girl. 

“Anything strike you about it?


“Oh, well, to get the full significance, of course, [...]” 

In those short paragraphs Wodehouse speaks directly to the reader. Here’s another example:

“But I had carried on according to plan, and here I was, on the fifth morning of my visit, absolutely in the pink and with no regrets whatsoever. The sun was shining. The sky was blue. And London seemed miles away—which it was, of course. I wouldn’t be exaggerating if I said that a great peace enveloped the soul.”

All that is perfectly standard. It’s funny, and Wodehouse’s distinctive voice shines through the prose, but the author isn’t doing anything outlandish. Then, in the next paragraph, the narrator shakes things up by confessing to the reader that ...

“A thing I never know when I’m telling a story is how much scenery to bung in. I’ve asked one or two scriveners of my acquaintance, and their views differ. A fellow I met at a cocktail party in Bloomsbury said that he was all for describing kitchen sinks and frowsty bedrooms and squalor generally, but the beautifies of Nature, no. Whereas, Freddie Oaker, of the Drones, who does takes of pure love for the weeklies under the pen-name of Alicia Seymour, once told me that he reckoned that flowery meadows in springtime alone were worth at least a hundred quid a year to him.”

I know some readers hate the jarring sensation that can accompany being scooped up from your comfortable armchair (or park bench or bus seat or ...) and plopped into the story. Many (many) people would like to keep their narrators at arms length and not have these little private asides from them. Personally, though, I love the cosy feeling of being involved in the story, of being drawn into it like this, where the characters themselves reach out to you. One gets the feeling: They are talking to me! (If you’re thinking that this is a sign I should get out more, you could be right.)

Writing Rules

I think there are only three rules when it comes to writing:

1. Writers write.
2. Writers read.
3. Take all other rules with a grain of salt.

Yes, there are rules of thumb, advice that can make things easier for a new writer, someone who isn’t as adept as, say, Gillian Flynn. Her writing is artful, her prose is poetic.

The problem (I say that as though there were just one) in beginning a story when a character wakes up is that, generally, waking up isn’t terribly exciting. What’s the conflict? The struggle to stay awake? If so, the story’s in trouble before it really gets going. But, in Gillian Flynn’s able hands, it is interesting. One gets a sense that these opening paragraphs form a kind of parallel, or allegory, for the story itself. Nick is awaking ... to a nightmare. Perhaps one of his own making.

In summary, don’t let any writing rule make you feel you can’t do something you’d like to. Ultimately, we write for ourselves, we write because it’s not only something we must do but because it’s something we (usually) enjoy doing. As Stephen King says in “On Writing”:

“There is absolutely no need to be hidebound and conservative in your work [...] Shit, write upside down if you want to, or do it in Crayola pictographs. But no matter how you do it, there comes a point when you must judge what you’ve written and how well you wrote it. I don’t believe a story or a novel should be allowed outside the door of your study or writing room unless you feel confident that it’s reasonably reader-friendly. You can’t please all of the readers all of the time; you can’t please even some of the readers all of the time, but you really ought to try to please at least some of the readers some of the time. [...] And now that I’ve waved that caution flag [...] let me reiterate that it’s all on the table, all up for grabs. Isn’t that an intoxicating thought? I think it is. Try any goddam thing you like, no matter how boringly normal or outrageous. If it works, fine. If it doesn’t, toss it. Toss it even if you love it. Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch once said, “Murder your darlings,” and he was right.”

That says it all.

Wednesday, March 26

Agatha Christie's Secret: Break The Rules

Agatha Christie's Secret: Break The Rules

Today I'm continuing with the second part of my two part series on how to write like the Queen of Crime, Agatha Christie. Today I want to look at three things:

1. Agatha Christie the rebel
2. Christie's story structure
3. The reveal

I feel that each of these elements contributed not only to her astonishing success but to the uniqueness of her work.

By the way, my title is somewhat tongue-in-cheek. I truly don't believe there was a secret to Christie's success; no formula exists for reproducing her phenomenal achievements. That said, I do believe that part of her success was due to her willingness to flout the conventions of her craft and risk the ire of critics as well as her peers.

(Note: Though I did try to get through all these points, I only made it through the first. As a result this article is actually part two of a three part series.)

1. Christie did the unexpected, even the forbidden

There is a story making the rounds that Agatha Christie was nearly thrown out of the Detection Club because she so thoroughly and regularly broke their rules of fair play in writing, specifically her novel The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. According to the story it was Dorothy L. Sayers (then club president) who cast the vote that saved her from the disgrace of expulsion.

While this is a terrific story, I doubt it ever happened. (Since this is off topic, I'll put my reasons for disbelief in footnote 9, see below.) The reason I mention the story is because the tale nicely illustrates an essential truth about Christie's work: she wasn't afraid to break rules or flout conventions. For example, although I doubt anyone wanted to expel her for it, she did likely break the rules of the Detection Club more than any other writer. [11]

Let's take a look at each rule of the detection club (these seem to have been less like rules and more like ethical guidelines) and see whether, and how, Christie broke it.

(Spoilers ahead)

Rule #1: "The criminal must be mentioned in the early part of the story, but must not be anyone whose thoughts the reader has been allowed to know."

Famously, Agatha Christie broke this rule in her masterpiece, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. That book is told by the killer who is acting as Hercule Poirot's assistant--his Watson--in the case. Further, it is told using the first person, so one does know the innermost thoughts of the narrator/killer. 

This certainly didn't seem to hurt the book! This is from Wikipedia:

"It [The Murder of Roger Ackroyd] is one of Christie's best known and most controversial novels, its innovative twist ending having a significant impact on the genre. The short biography of Christie which is included in the present UK printings of all of her books states that this novel is her masterpiece. Howard Haycraft, in his seminal 1941 work, Murder for Pleasure, included the novel in his "cornerstones" list of the most influential crime novels ever written. The character of Caroline Sheppard was later acknowledged by Christie as a possible precursor to her famous detective Miss Marple." (The Murder of Roger Ackroyd)

Not satisfied, in 1967 Christie broke the rule again in her critically acclaimed Endless Night.

Rule #2: "All supernatural or preternatural agencies are ruled out as a matter of course."

Off the top of my head, The Idol House of Astarte and Dead Man's Mirror violated this rule. Yes, the final solution didn't involve anything supernatural but the supernatural wasn't ruled out until the very end. That is, a supernatural explanation wasn't ruled out as a matter of course but, instead, seemed to be taken seriously. (Also, The Adventure of the Egyptian Tomb)

Rule #3: "Not more than one secret room or passage is allowable."

Christie had a lot of fun with secret rooms and passages, but (as far as I can recall) nearly always used them as a red herring, something the murderer used in an attempt to throw the sleuth off the trail. For example, Three Act Tragedy and Peril at End House. However Christie did use them more seriously in The Adventure of Johnnie Waverly.

Rule #4: "No hitherto undiscovered poisons may be used, nor any appliance which will need a long scientific explanation at the end."

I don't think Agatha Christie broke this rule. 

Rule #5: Do not use stereotyped boogymen. [This is my paraphrase of the original rule.]

Just last night I re-watched the BBC's excellent adaptation of Cards on the Table which breaks rule number five, a rule which I take as saying that one must not use fictional stereotyped boogymen like Fu Manchu. One's villains (in this case Mr. Shaitana) must be three-dimensional. 

In Cards on the Table Christie subverted the stereotype. Though I have never read a book that Fu Manchu appeared in, it seems he was, fundamentally, the kind of character who killed people and did all sorts of dastardly deeds. Christie cleverly subverts that stereotype in Cards my making Mr. Shaitana do the completely unexpected--he arranged for his own murder. This is made plausible by the psychological state of the man and what he hoped to accomplish by the act.

(Future me: In an earlier version of this post I had written that Shaitana killed himself. A keen eyed reader pointed out that wasn't true. And that's correct. Shaitana set up a little drama with the intention that one of his guests would kill him and then he drugged himself because he didn't want to feel the dagger as it was slipped into his body. Shaitana did, in a sense, commit suicide, but, still, he was murdered.)

(August 2021 Note: In the above I had mixed together the excellent television adaptation of Agatha Christie's Cards on the Table with Christie's equally excellent book. In the book, Shaitana does not anticipate that one of his guests will kill him, that only happens in television adaptation (Poirot, Season 10, Episode 2) staring the wonderfully talented David Suchet. Thank you to all those who pointed this out.)

Rule #6: No accident must ever help the detective, nor must he ever have an unaccountable intuition which proves to be right.

Though I have to say that Christie didn't always play fair with the reader--in at least one of her stories I swear there was no way a reader could have guessed the solution--I can't think of a book of hers in which this occurred. (Can you? If so, please leave a comment.)

Rule #7: "The detective himself must not commit the crime."

Christie shattered this rule more than once. She did this first and most spectacularly (as we have seen) in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, but also in Endless Night

Rule #8: "The detective is bound to declare any clues which he may discover."

I think Christie tended to play fair with this. Her detectives shared all their clues with the reader, but almost never shared the inferences drawn from them, except at the end.

Rule #9: "The 'sidekick' of the detective, the Watson, must not conceal from the reader any thoughts which pass through his mind: his intelligence must be slightly, but very slightly, below that of the average reader."

As we have discussed, Christie shattered this one in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd.

Rule #10: "Twin brothers, and doubles generally, must not appear unless we have been duly prepared for them."

I think Christie played fair with this. One of the books she used this idea in (though they aren't, strictly speaking, twins) with great effect is A Murder is Announced.

Agatha Christie's Score: How much of a rule breaker was she?

What is Agatha Christie's score?

Rule 1: Broken
Rule 2: Broken
Rule 3: Subverted
Rule 4: Kept
Rule 5: Subverted
Rule 6: Mostly kept
Rule 7: Broken
Rule 8: Kept
Rule 9: Broken
Rule 10: Kept

(By "subverted" I mean that while Christie technically broke the rule she still played fair with the reader. By "broken" I mean to indicate that, strictly speaking, she did not play fair.)

Well, 4 out of 10 isn't bad! (grin) So she broke the rules more than she kept them, but she did it intelligently, creatively and with wit.

Thanks for reading and I promise to wrap up this series in one more post. (Perhaps not the next post--I think I'll blog about something else next time--but soon.)


1. "The Writing Style of Agatha Christie," by
2. "Agatha Christie - Her Method of Writing," over at
3. "Agatha Christie,"
4. "Random House employees get $5,000 bonuses, thanks to ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’," by Caitlin Dewey over at The Washington Post.
5. "Fifty Shades of Grey,"
6. "Creator: Agatha Christie,"
7. "Mystery Tropes,"
8. Some accounts have the Detection Club forming as late as 1930. Either way, however, my point stands.
9. First, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd was published in 1926 and the murder club didn't start up until 1928.[8] Presumably the other authors had read, or at least knew of, Agatha Christie's work and wouldn't have invited her to join if they so disapproved with her methods.
     Second, Dorothy L. Sayers became president of the Detection Club in 1949, 23 years after Christie published The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. I find it difficult to believe that it took (at least) 23 years for the members to become so incensed at the flouting of their rules that they clamoured to expel her. 
     Third, in the documentation I have read about Christie and the Detection Club [link to post on murder site], the members--especially by 1949--seem to have been in awe of Agatha Christie so I doubt any of them would have demanded her removal.
     But, I could be wrong. As they say, life is stranger than fiction. If anyone has any concrete information about this please do leave a comment or use my comment form to contact me privately.
10. The oath and initiation ceremony of the Detection Club. A-Z Challenge – Rules of the Detection Club (circa 1929), by elegsabiff over at Quite Contrary.
11. S.S. Van Dine also formulated a set of rules. See: Twenty rules for writing detective stories.

Photo credit: "Breaking the rules" by Karen Woodward under Creative Commons ShareAlike 2.0. The original photo is "Chicken Run" by Alison Christine under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Wednesday, September 4

Robert A. Heinlein: On The Writing of Speculative Fiction

Robert A. Heinlein: On The Writing of Speculative Fiction

There are nine-and-sixty ways
Of constructing tribal lays
And every single one of them is right

How did great writers structure their stories? And, beyond that, how did they think of story structure? 

Today, by a lucky accident, I came across a mention of Robert A. Heinlein's thoughts on structuring stories. I rooted around in my bookshelf to see what I could come up with and found an article entitled, "On The Writing Of Speculative Fiction," by Robert A. Heinlein. It is the edited transcript of a talk he gave

In On The Writing Heinlein discusses a number of ways of structuring science fiction stories with special emphasis (of course) on how he did things. His talk is fascinating and ends with what became his famous 5 rules of writing.

Five Ways To Write Speculative Fiction, by Robert A. Heinlein

1. The gadget story

This isn't the sort of story Heinlein wrote, but he said he enjoyed reading them.
"I have nothing against the gadget story--I read it and enjoy it--it's just not my pidgin. I am told that this is a how-to-do-it symposium; I'll stick to what I know how to do."

2. The human-interest story

This was the kind of story Heinlein wrote. He said:
"There are at least two principal ways to write speculative fiction--write about people, or write about gadgets. ... Most science fiction stories are a mixture of the two types, but we will speak as if they were distinct--at which point I will chuck the gadget story aside, dust off my hands, and confine myself to the human-interest story, that being the sort of story I myself write.
What follows are sub-types of the human interest story. Heinlein said:
"There are three main plots for the human-interest story: boy-meets-girl, the Little Tailor, and the man-who-learned-better. Credit the last category to L. Ron Hubbard; I had thought for years that there were but two plots--he pointed out to me the third type."

3. Boy meets girl.

Or some combination thereof. 

Heinlein writes that although there is often romance in SF stories that, in his day at least, it was less often the case that the romance was "the compelling and necessary element that creates and then solves the problem [emphasis mine]".

There's quite a number of ways to go with this structure, Heinlein listed a few:

- boy-fails-to-meet-girl,
- boy-meets-girl-too-late,
- boy-meets-too-many-girls,
- boy-loses-girl,
- boy-and-girl-renounce-love-for-higher-purpose.

And, of course, those are just the start of the variations! Today's stories have boy-girl, girl-boy, boy-boy and girl-girl.

Heinlein even gave those in the audience the basis for a "boy-meets-girl" plot:
"Here is a throw-away plot; you can have it free: elderly man meets very young girl; they discover that they are perfectly adapted to each other, perfectly in love, "soul mates." (Don't ask me how. It's up to you to make the thesis credible, If I'm going to have to write this story, I want to be paid for it.)

"Now to make it a science fiction story. Time travel? Okay, what time theory--probable-times, classic theory, or what? Rejuvenation? Is this mating necessary to some greater end? Or vice versa? Or will you transcend the circumstances, as C. L. Moore did in that tragic masterpiece "Bright Illusion"?

I've used it twice as tragedy and shall probably use it again. Go ahead and use it yourself. I did not invent it; it is a great story that has been kicking around for centuries."

4. The little Tailor.

This is about a nobody who becomes Mr. or Ms. Big or, flipping that on its head, about a character who is at the zenith, the apex, of his/her career and then plummets to the bottom. Heinlein writes:
"... this is an omnibus to all stories about the little guy who becomes a big shot, or vice versa."
 As examples Heinlein lists:

- "Dick Whittington,"
- all of the Alger books,
- Little Caesar,
- Galactic Patrol (but not Grey Lensrnan),
- Mein Kampf,
- David in the Old Testament.

Heinlein notes: "It is the success story or, in reverse, the story of tragic failure."

5. The man-who-learned-better.

Heinlein writes:
"The man-who-learned-better; just what it sounds like--the story of a man who has one opinion, point of view, or evaluation at the beginning of the story, then acquires a new opinion or evaluation as a result of having his nose rubbed in some harsh facts. I had been writing this story for years before Hubbard pointed out to me the structure of it."


- Heinline's own "Universe" and "Logic of Empire"
- Jack London's "South of the Slot,"
- Dickens's, "A Christmas Carol."

Heinlein On Story

Recall that, at the beginning of the article, Heinlein defined a story as
"something interesting-but-not-necessarily-true"
That's a general statement, broad enough to cover any story. Well, at least the interesting ones! (And we could say, well, interesting to who? Interesting to how many? To the writer? To readers yet-to-be born? In any case, moving on.)

However, Heinlein's own stories conformed to this structure:
"... a man finds himself in circumstances that create a problem for him. In coping with this problem, the man is changed in some fashion inside himself. The story is over when the inner change is complete--the external incidents may go on indefinitely."
Here are a few of his examples:
A lonely rich man learns comradeship in a hobo jungle.
A strong man is crippled and has to adjust to it.
A gossip learns to hold her tongue.
A hard-boiled materialist gets acquainted with a ghost.
Heinlein goes on to stress that he's interested in stories about inner as opposed to outer change:
"This is the story of character, rather than incident. It's not everybody's dish, but for me it has more interest than the most overwhelming pure adventure story. It need not be unadventurous; the stress that produces the change in character can be wildly adventurous, and often is."

Robert A. Heinlein's definition of the pure science fiction story

First, let's break down Heinlein's own structure for his stories:
a. The protagonist finds himself/herself in circumstances that create a problem for him/her.

b. In coping with the problem the protagonist is changed in some fashion inside himself/herself.

c. The story is over when the inner change is complete.

Here's what Heinlein thought were the essential bits:
i. The new conditions (the change in the protagonist's circumstances) must be an essential part of the story.

ii. "The problem itself--the "plot"--must be a human problem. The human problem must be one that is created by, or indispensably affected by, the new conditions."

iii. "And lastly, no established fact shall be violated."
Good advice. That said, Heinlein added:
"But don't write to me to point out how I have violated my own rules in this story or that; I've violated all of them and I would much rather try a new story than defend an old one."
In closing Heinlein gave encouragement to other writers:
"I've limited myself to my notions about science fiction, but don't forget Mr. Kipling's comment. In any case it isn't necessary to know how--just go ahead and do it. Write what you like to read. If you have a yen for it, if you get a kick out of "just imagine--," if you love to think up new worlds, then come on in, the water's fine and there is plenty of room."

Heinlein's 5 Rules

It is in this speech that Heinlein gives his famous 5 rules. Although I've come to the end of what I wanted to tell you about Heinlein and his comments on story I'm going to include the rest of his talk, below, because I got such a kick out of reading the original. Maybe you will too.
"I'm told that these articles are supposed to be some use to the reader. I have a guilty feeling that all of the above may have been more for my amusement than for your edification. Therefore I shall chuck in as a bonus a group of practical, tested rules which, if followed meticulously, will prove rewarding to any writer.

"I shall assume that you can type, that you know the accepted commercial format or can be trusted to look it up and follow it, and that you always use new ribbons and clean type. Also, that you can spell and punctuate and can use grammar well enough to get by. These things are merely the word-carpenter's sharp tools. He must add to them these business habits:

1. You must write.
2. You must finish what you start.
3. You must refrain from rewriting except to editorial order.
4. You must put it on the market.
5. You must keep it on the market until sold.

"The above five rules really have more to do with how to write speculative fiction than anything said above them. But they are amazingly hard to follow--which is why there are so few professional writers and so many aspirants, and which is why I am not afraid to give away the racket! But, if you will follow them, it matters not how you write, you will find some editor somewhere, sometime, so unwary or so desperate for copy as to buy the worst old dog you, or I, or anybody else, can throw at him."
Yes ladies and gentlemen, write, and you may one day find "some editor somewhere, sometime, so unwary or so desperate for copy as to buy the worst old dog you, or I, or anybody else, can throw at him." (grin)

Good writing!

Photo credit: "Wee Westie Backlit on the Beach" by Randy Robertson under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Monday, August 20

How To Be A Writer

How To Be A Writer

From Roxane Gay is Spelled With One "N".
How to Be a Contemporary Writer:

1. Read diversely.

2. Write.

3. See items 1 and 2.

4. Accept that there is no one way to make it as a writer and that the definition of making it is fluid and tiered. 
. . . .
8. Be nice. The community is small and everyone talks. Being nice does not mean eating shit. Being nice does not mean kissing ass. Being nice just means treating others the way you would prefer to be treated. If you’re comfortable being treated like an asshole, then by all means.
. . . .
17a. You are neither as great or terrible a writer as you assume.

18. Know that sometimes you simply need to work harder and sometimes you’ve done the best you can do and there’s no shame in either.
. . . .
25. Ignore all of this as you see fit.
Read the rest here: How to Be a Contemporary Writer.

Or, as Robert Heinlein put it all those years ago:
Heinlein's Rules for Writing:
1. You must write.
2. You must finish what you write.
3. You must refrain from rewriting, except to editorial order.
4. You must put the work on the market.
5. You must keep the work on the market until it is sold.
Today with the advent of indie publishing I think the fourth and fifth points could read:

4. You must publish your work when it is ready. If your story has not been professionally edited and formatted, if it does not have a professional looking cover, then it is not ready.

5. You must keep the work published even if your initial sales are disappointing. Experiment with different covers and with different prices and even with different pen names.

How do you think Heinlein would adapt his rules of writing to the world of indie publishing?

Thanks for reading!

Other articles you might like:
- 8 Ways To Become A Better Writer
- How I Solved My Book Cover Dilemma, and How You Can Too
- Jane Friedman: How To Build An Awesome Twitter Bio

Photo credit: Håkan Dahlström

Sunday, September 4

Dean Wesley Smith: The secret of making it as a professional writer

Dean Wesley Smith gives Heinlein's Rules of Writing:
1. You must write.

2. You must finish what you start.

3. You must refrain from rewriting except to editorial order.

4. You must put it on the market.

5. You must keep it on the market until sold.

Then he said, “The above five rules really have more to do with how to write fiction [...] but they are amazingly hard to follow — which is why there are so few professional writers and so many aspirants, and which is why I am not afraid to give away the racket!

I found these rules and followed them when I got serious about writing in 1982. So did my wife before I knew her. So did so many more of my successful writer friends.

As Heinlein said, the rules are amazingly hard to follow.

And for those of you who are looking for a secret to making it as a professional writer, Heinlein put it right out there in 1947. And it hasn’t changed, unlike most everything else in this business.
Read more of Dean's article here: Heinlein's Business Rules