writing tips

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Rules for Writers: A Baker’s Dozen


Here are some suggested daily habits for writers. It’s OK if they are broken because that’s what resolutions in habits’ clothing are meant to suffer! Still, let us amuse ourselves as if rules are hard and fast:

  1. If you have little or no discipline around technology, keep a writing notebook. Buy the best damned notebook and pen / pencil you can find so the feeling is “right” every time. Then write every time.
  2. If you have some semblance of discipline around technology, when you log on to the computer, click the WORD icon to write before you click the BROWSER icon to see who emailed you or replied to or liked or retweeted you on social media.
  3. In fact, be anti-social media. Social media might work (some) for the business side of writing, but it does little if anything for the writing side of writing.
  4. Listening to music as you write is OK, but only if it doesn’t distract. Distraction = singing to the words of a song while you’re writing your own personal epic. For me, classical works. Songs with lyrics do not.
  5. Drinks like coffee while writing, good. Drinks like beer, wine, or hard alcohol, bad. Food for thought, good. Food for love handles, bad.
  6. If you have a burning idea, kindle that new fire first. Otherwise…
  7. Always reread what you wrote the day before so you can revise it under fresh eyes. Did you know you grow a fresh pair of eyes each night when you sleep? This idea is revisionist like much of history these days, but it’s true, Virginia: Revisionist eyes are a writer’s best friend (sorry, pooch).
  8. Reread your work aloud. Good writing, be it poetry or prose, sings. It is music. It is long and short. It is repetition that doesn’t sound repetitive, but rather like a refrain.
  9. Reread again and again (and again) across the days. Those fresh eyes are an opinionated lot like Congress. Hopefully they can accomplish more, but the point is, revision is more marathon than dash. You may change a word back and forth 23 times. It doesn’t mean you’re indecisive; it means you’re doing your job.
  10. When you think you’re finally done, think again.
  11. If you’ve ever cringed at a work of yours that was published, hang it up over your computer or writing notebook as a reminder of #10.
  12. Remember that rules work and don’t work, depending on you. The French loved Jerry Lewis. The Americans, not so much. In either case, comedy survived because different criteria work in different ways. So write. Reread. Revise. Repeat without lathering or rinsing. And only after you love, love, love what you wrote after 30 musical rereadings aloud across 30 musical days aloud, submit.
  13. Finally, submit to a market you’d be proud to see your name attached to. If printed, hold a copy of the journal or magazine. If online, view a copy. If you’re not wild about the editor’s choices, pass. If you object to the size of the font, pass. If you love both the look and the company you’ll keep, go.