Everyone who writes has rules that they follow, whether they realize it or not. Often, these rules are largely subconscious. However, the more you write, the more you hone your rules down, so that they work for you. After a while, you know what methods work well for you, without having to think about it. These are the rules I have found that work well for me.
1) If a story idea inspires you, write it down, so that you have it during those times of creative fatigue, otherwise known as ‘writers block.’
This is a good rule, and when I think of it, I do write my ideas down — sometimes. The acts of discovering an idea, or being inspired by an idea, and then going back to refer to it, are different acts. The sad thing is, when you are in the midst of a writers block, all you are likely to see in the idea you carefully filed away is its flaws.
I have plans for more books sitting on my computer, waiting for me to get into them and begin building their stories. Depending on how I am feeling, when I look at them sometimes they look interesting.
2) If you write your first draft by hand, use good penmanship, so that you can read it when you are ready to type it out.
This is axiomatic. Many people do enjoy writing their first drafts by hand. The mind functions in a different way when you write each word out, than it does when you are rapidly typing. Some people even enjoy using a dip pen, or a fountain pen for this process. Using a fountain pen compels your thinking to become more methodic and controlled. The writer is far more likely to consider each word very carefully, as he commits it to paper. Then he can type his pages in to the computer where he can revise or delete passages in seconds.
3) If, when beginning your novel, one scene stands out in your mind; write it. You can build up to it and beyond it, as your imagination fills in the details.
Often people do not feel they have a complete story if they cannot see it all laid out in their minds before they sit down to write. New writers do not yet understand that stories are often written in layers. The first draft might contain a few decent descriptions, much dialogue that needs to be tightened up and filled in, and characters that need to be developed. When the experienced writer goes through this draft, he will see many things to fix and improve. Once he has fixed those things, he will see more things to work on.
4) Do your research.
f you are creating a completely different world, work out what its parameters are, where things are located in this world, and how it differs from the one we live in. If you are taking your characters back in time, do your homework, so that your readers don’t become cross-eyed with disgust, because they know full well that things did not happen the way you describe.
Often, this planning and research evolves as you write your story. I have found that spending a day doing the research, peacing together what daily life must have been like in a past time is an excellent way to understand what my characters need to be doing next, and, with good research, I know how to describe it.
5) Set aside a given amount of time every day for your writing.
You need to pace yourself. How much time are you capable of sitting down to write every day, without going nutty? Maintaining a steady pace, along with your sanity, is your goal. If you are capable of writing for five hours for two days, and by the third day even one more minute of sitting in front of your computer gives you the screaming meemies, it is time to rethink your schedule.
6) Delve into who your characters are and what they want to achieve.
You might not use all the information you get, but you will have it as you build each scene with them. Have your characters write letters to you, telling you about themselves. One excellent exercise is to let them describe in their own words what it is he wants out of life, and what he is willing to do in order to achieve his goal.
7) Remember, any outlining you do is to serve your needs. You are not there to serve the outline.
When to outline your story, and how much to outline is totally your call. Some writers love to work from an outline. Other writers find the outline too restrictive. Still other writers like to let their characters drive the action until almost the very end, when they sit down to outline all those points that need to be pulled together before the final page.
8) Draw your readers into the scenes, by using as many sensory descriptions as you can.
This is only one of many ways to make your manuscript interesting. Another element to think of is pacing. You want to alternate scenes of drama or violence with scenes that are placid and that permit your readers to understand and connect with your characters, so that when the next high impact scene comes along, they will be routing for your characters to win.
9) Don’t fret if you need to take mental health days.
Everyone needs these days, no matter how much they love the work they do. Just don’t give up, and do not let yourself believe that because you spent an entire week without writing that the dream of your book must be put away, or that the book is not worth writing. Everyone has to take time off. When you have done that, you pick yourself up and continue with your work.
10) Subtle humor is wonderful. It keeps your readers interested in what is happening.
Every writer has his own way of turning a phrase that he develops as he builds his craft. And, do remember as you edit, there is no one correct or perfect way to express your ideas. There are only better ways.
11) Beta Readers and writers groups.
This last has place of honor, as it goes beyond the magic ten. You may find that this is the most important rule to follow. A good writers critique group will help you to hone your craft better than almost anything else could.