In the past five years I’ve collected the wisdom of published authors on the subject of “how to be a published author.” Because that’s the end goal of most writers–to get something published by someone who will give money in exchange for what you’ve written.
The advice each author gives is as much a matter of their individual taste as is the end product. After combing through hundreds of these things on Author FAQ pages, news sites and workshop handouts I’ve noticed a few things. Firstly, you’ll go mad if you try to do what everyone says. This one wants you to only write on a computer or typewriter. That one wants you to write only longhand. This one says you never write first thing in the morning because you need to give your head time to clear. Somebody else will tell you that you always write first thing in the morning, before the purity of your work is corrupted by the clutter of your day.
They all agree on only two points: Read as much as you can (see the Faulkner quote in the sidebar) and write every day.
A reader can always tell the writers who don’t read often and don’t read broadly, because writing by people who don’t read is like having a breakfast of cold dry cereal and a handful of chickpeas. Yes, technically it’s food. But food served by someone who has no idea of what it’s like to actually eat a meal. They don’t sense the way things should fit together, the way the cereal needs a little milk to bring out subtleties in flavour and accentuate the crunch. Written works by writers who don’t read broadly are like spending the week at the house of a bachelor who eats only pizza. As good as the pizza is, the lack of variety leads to a lack of nutrition. By the end of your stay you’d not only give thousands of dollars for any food other than pizza, you’ll most likely not want to eat another pizza for a good long time. For someone who wants repeat readers that’s bad news indeed.
I don’t know that anyone will ever ask me for my “rules on writing” because I’m in the process of refining my goals. For so long I’ve had “get published” as my goal that it seems as though I’m giving up. But I’ve been doing a lot of thinking, and as it turns out much of it was magical thinking. I kept skipping over the part in my mind where I have fun telling the story. As I said the other day, it’s been liberating to take a few steps back and re-evaluate the process of writing from a different angle.
So whether or not anyone ever asks for real, here it goes. I have three rules. At first they seem flippant, but I am deadly serious. Read a lot of a lot of different types of books. Write something other than email every day. Make sure your crafting process is fundamentally rewarding to you. It won’t always be fun, but it should always leave you feeling better for having done it.