Ok, let’s admit it. Some of you have novels and other length fiction in the closet. I hope it will be helpful to offer some advice here, and to answer questions that you may have. Here’s a set of The Rules :
1. “Follow no rule off a cliff”—CJ Cherryh, I forget when. When advice conflicts with your concept of your story, don’t try to go there. Seek other advice.
2. “Editors excuse and expect typos, not bad grammar.” Words are your equipment. Respect them. Use them precisely. And write a lot. Your natural mode of expression is talking. You have to make it so words flow out of your fingers accurately spelled, accurately typed, and making exactly the sense you want. This skill comes with practice. Months and years of practice. You have time to make up for: get cracking, no matter what you write. The corollary to this is: “Never trust Grammatik or a computer spell checker.”
3. “Don’t plan: do. The plan will occur to you as you go.” Some writers do plan everything. They must not be as often distracted as I am. Get it on paper, in any form you can. But if the muse strikes, go for it. Just take notes before the sun sets.
4. “Study word derivations.” Learn them in families, as, for instance, the Latin reg-rect (Rule, govern, regulate) gives us: regent, regnant, regulation, regular, cor-RECT, insurrection, rectangular, regent, Rex, incorrigible, (why did that e change to i? accented double consonant in front of it.) Etc. When you need a word, think of one of your core groups and let that core instruct you. In the huge Webster’s International, there are some fine-print pages at the front that nobody ever reads. Read them. They contain all the rules for English grammar and spelling ever concocted, in less than 25 pages. Mastery of that section is all that’s between you and Gandalf-like wisdom, at least where it regards the English language.
5. “Plan to publish or don’t. Both are honorable ways to write.” Nuff said. Write for yourself and your friends, or do it for pub. And if you do it for pub, I’d recommend going for paper books, not e-pub. If you can do it, it will give you a springboard you can’t get online.
6. “Don’t drive or handle operate heavy equipment while working out a scene in your head.” Your vision may switch without warning to a spaceport dock or a mediaeval castle. This is no time to be navigating downtown or running a lathe.
7. “Never imagine that you are a better writer while on substances.” You aren’t. Don’t even write on aspirin if you can avoid it. You need as keen a mind as you can muster.
8. “Don’t ask your Aunt Hattie to critique. She loves you too much.” Find some reader who’ll ask the hard questions, and the proper questions for the kind of story you write.
9. “Do not mix up advice about short stories with advice about novels.” I’ve seen more confused young writers who took a short course from some writer and never thought to ask what that writer writes. The mediums are vastly different.
10. “Write. Write often. Write daily. If you can’t do anything else that day, keep a journal of your thoughts and observations and take on life in general, just to keep your fingers in practice.” Thinking about writing is not practice. Writing is practice. You wouldn’t expect to look at a piano and think about the piano and listen to people play the piano and then hope to go to Carnegie Hall rarely having touched a keyboard yourself. Same problem.
11. “Don’t be too critical.” Ted Sturgeon said “98 percent of everything is crap.” Yep. Write garbage. Write, write, write. Then learn to edit brilliantly.
12. “If your book has one brilliant scene, and you’re now stalled, that scene is your problem, especially if it’s the best thing you ever wrote.” Get it out of there, however lovingly crafted. Back up, and get going.
13. “You can say anything if you can punctuate it correctly.” —”Good No Fear to kill the King.—rough literal translation of a famous Latin sentence. It can read: ”Not good situation. Fear to Kill the King.” Or. “Situation ok. No fear. OK to kill the king.” Where you put the period matters. In this instance, the bearer could assess the situation, add one dot on the paper—or not—and poor king Edward was toast. Pay meticulous attention to dots, whether 3, or 4, or over commas… … …. ; : etc.
14. “If you’ve mailed out a book to a publisher, get busy on another one.” Or you’ll go nuts. An answer can take months.
15. “Rejection means I’m bad.” Nope. It can mean the book needs work: assume that, and you’ll send out a better book. But it can also mean the publisher just bought a book very like yours and wants to balance the list. It can also mean everybody on the editorial committee liked it but the company president, and that did it. It can also mean the new-hire first reader was scared to bring a really innovative manuscript to the scary 3rd editor, and just sent it back as the easier course. Or it can mean that somebody backed into the editor’s car this morning and the editor is not in the mood for humor. Reasons vary. Don’t second guess or blame your skills. Just send out the best book you can.
C.J. CHERRYH, Writing for Fun and Profit.
The craft of writing
The craft of writing