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This week in class, we read Colson Whitehead’s smart and often hilarious advice on How to Write. Based on that, I put together my own list of rules. They’re personal, based on what works for me and the traps I struggle to avoid, but I wonder if some of them might be more broadly applicable as well:

  1. Resist the urge to summarize. Writing should move forward. Summaries, at least in my experience, all too often are safety cushions against a braver ending.
  2. Start with what you know. Fiction by definition wouldn’t exist without improvisation and exploration, but it’s equally essential to ground a story somewhere. Emotions are good starting points.
  3. Never show anyone your first draft.
  4. You know what, don’t even talk about the story until draft 3. It’s so fragile in the early stages. Volatile, too. Anything you say about the story may well be better than anything you’ve written down so far, and you won’t remember it later.
  5. Write the part of the story you’re excited about first, regardless of whether you’ve written it yet.
  6. Be flexible, both inside and outside of the story. Write Every Day only works until the first case of food poisoning. Make rules you can stick to, and don’t write drafts so rigid you can’t follow a better idea.
  7. Have fun with revising. Cutting a story up with scissors is a good way to quickly try out new scene arrangements and keep in touch with the fearless inner kindergartener at the same time.
  8. Write scenes that aren’t even supposed to be in the final version for the sake of getting to know the characters better.
  9. If it’s in because it makes you feel clever, it probably shouldn’t be in.
  10. Writing in any subgenre has the potential to be literature (here’s to you, spec fic).

What writer’s rules do you swear by?

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