It’s eighteen years since my first few books were published and I’ve had a very varied and productive writing career ever since. I’ve also got to know lots of other authors, at various stages in their careers; I’ve been on many workshops and read many books about the art and craft of writing.
Although I’ve experienced occasional bouts of frustration, stress and despondency over the years in relation to the business side of things, I’ve always felt happy and confident in my writing, and I think that’s largely down to finding and following my five golden rules:
Focus on the big picture
The real work-in-progress is yourself as a writer – every word, draft and manuscript you produce contributes to that. Therefore even if a piece of work is turned down by publishers or agents, that doesn’t mean it’s been a waste of time, because it’s added to the sum of your writing experience. (In fact, rejected MSS will often go on to have their day – they’re eminently recyclable)
Don’t push the river
Creative work has its own rhythm, requiring fallow time as well as pondering, planning, drafting and redrafting. If you try to write a book before it’s ready, you’ll come up against blocks and difficulties; if you learn to be patient, and allow the ideas to fully form up in your mind before you begin, the writing will flow.
Don’t expect to please everyone
We’re all different, so we all enjoy different themes and voices in our reading, and that includes publishers and agents. If you get rejections, take notice of constructive criticism but don’t take it personally. Ditto if you get bad reviews.
Understand your soul’s needs
Some people want to write because they have a burning desire to tell their own personal story, or to achieve celebrity, or to become a public speaker. Some people hope to earn a lot of money. Others may simply want to be able to create objects that please them. Identifying what you want from being a writer will help you to create achievable goals and lasting satisfaction. I’ve written about this on the blog, in What kind of writer do you want to be?
As soon as you start to write, whether you are published or not, you begin to see life through a writer’s eyes. You notice everything. Snippets of overheard conversations; the story in a stranger’s face; the movement of light in leaves. You uncover the unconscious narrative streams that flow in your own psyche, and so magnify your experience of everyday life.
These are the rules which have underpinned the whole of my writing life. What are your writing rules?