Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Three Rules of Writing

I’m not fond of rules and regulations but they are there for a purpose. These three basic rules will help you write with confidence.
  1. Be Honest.  Bare yourself on the paper.  No, don’t give me all the intimate dirty details of your past or present.  What I want is your feelings, your emotions,  presented as actions, in a way that makes me feel them, too.  Like Eliza Doolittle, in the musical “My Fair Lady,” I say, “show me.”  Let your characters experience pain and heartbreak, because I want to see how they deal with it.  Let them grow on the page so I can grow along with them.
  2. Be a Duck.  Ducks sit in the stream or pond and groom or feed or sit no matter what the weather: storm or sun.  Whatever you write will offend someone, if it is well written.  You need to be able to sit in the stream of your work and let the shouts of acclimation and disdain roll off your back as you continue writing.  I recently read two book reviews written by two different authors with very different perspectives.  The book they reviewed was David Mamet’s new book based on his “conversion” from screenwriter and playwright with leftist politics, to one aligned with the political right.  The first review by Christopher Hitchens leaves the reader with no doubt that the book is worthless.  The second review by Andrew Klavan, is personal, thoughtful, and makes me want to read at least parts of the book.  You can expect both reactions from your writing and a duck-like attitude will take you far.      
  3. Revise.  No one’s first written effort is good.  No matter how good it looks to you, it isn’t.  Check spelling, grammar, sentence structure, transitions.  If you pick a simile or metaphor that works, make sure the others you use are consistent with your character and his environment.  Are you deliberately using non-standard structure, non-standard grammar, non-standard spelling?  Why?  In a few cases, there is good reason to break the rules.  But, only if your readers can follow your line of thought.  For most purposes, use correct spelling and grammar, concise sentences, and logical transitions. When you have read it over 20 or 30 times, let someone else read and edit it.  I can guarantee you that they will find mistakes. 
Now that you know the three rules, what happens if you violate them?  Violate Rule 1 and no one will care about your writing.  Your characters will be cardboard cut-outs, two dimensional representations, shadows of reality.  If you violate Rule 2, you will soon stop writing because you can’t stand up to the hurtful comments or you will be so enamored with the positive reviews, that you will never grow as a writer.  Finally, if you violate Rule Number 3, no one will read your writing. If it requires too much effort to follow your inconsistent usage of grammar, sentence structure, spelling, it will not be worth the reader’s time.  So be honest, act like a duck, and revise, revise, revise and you will soon have writing that is worth reading.