I used to be one of those people who tried to follow every grammar and composition rule in the book, which was great for high school English and really great as an English major in college. But one day I woke up from that rigid idea of writing.
For years, I was frustrated to listen to one English teacher after another; talking about rules and marking papers with their big, red pens until I had a professor that confirmed what I had been contemplating for years.
“Writing is not about rules,” she said. “Writing is about making choices.”
This wise, brilliant professor was Dr. Judith Hebb, who–I will add–became one of my favorite teachers in college. After the greatest awakening I ever had, I realized it was so simple: creative writing was simply creative.
Before you go all haywire in the belief that creative writing is totally unstructured, let me point out that there are a few rules you should always keep in mind–no matter what sort of writing you do.
Rule #1 Always know your audience!
If it helps, ask yourself questions: Who am I writing for? (I would say me, or in this case, you.) Who is my audience–my readers? (This answer will not always be the same.) What genre am I writing? What sort of people read that genre?
When you write your manuscript, generally speaking, you write for yourself. You write what you want to write and what you want to say to the world. But keep in mind of who your audience is. Audiences–for different genres–are not the same, and publishers know this. They know what their readers want, and it is your job to know what that ‘want’ is.
Agencies also have their own submission guidelines and lists of what sort of genres they represent. When you query an agent or publisher, you must keep them (your readers) in mind before sending your manuscript and/or query. Research agents and publishers. You don’t want to send your Science Fiction novel to a publisher that only accepts Romance, do you? Or send out a query with an ambiguous synopsis filled with misspelled words. That’s just bad press!
Rule #2 Edit and Revise.
Now, I am not saying you should make every sentence a complete sentence or remove contractions from your work, but editing is vital to any type of writing and should be a permanent aspect of your technique. Sometimes taking time away from your work can open your eyes to mistakes you did not see before. I recommend–at least–taking a second and third look at your manuscript before submitting. Of course, I know writers who edit at least five times before they even query a publisher. Personally, I edit and revise as I write and edit and revise when I have finished the manuscript. I can’t tell you how many time I revise because it seems like I am always editing or revising something.
Aside from minor editing, a writer can improve their writing by eliminating adverbs and ‘be’ verbs. By doing this, you can cut down on dead wood (unnecessary info), which help create clearer sentences. Dead wood can choke your writing and turn off readers. Another way of cutting deadwood is cutting parts of your novel that drag and prolong the pace of your manuscript.
Ask yourself what is vital to the story. Does what you are reading aid the plot or take away from it? Is it necessary to the story? Can you do without it?
Description is great, but you do not want too much of it cluttering your scenes and turning off readers. Most people want to get to the point, but again, others enjoy a thorough descriptive setting. So back to rule one we go. Know your audience. Keep in mind that you can not please everyone. If you think you can, be my guest to try, but you will drive yourself crazy in the process.
Rule #3 Have someone critique or review your work.
It is always good to have a second or third party read your manuscript because they can give you great advice for revision and proofing. They can even give you tips on how to spice up a character or scene. Don’t underestimate the value of someone else’s eyes, whether it be a friend or a writers group. If you are lucky to have many eyes available at your disposal, take advantage–and who knows–they may be an avid reader of the same genre you write. Advice from someone like that can really help you, especially if you take the advantage and ask him/her what they enjoy reading. What makes them interested in one novel, but not another? What sort of hero/heroine do they look for in a novel?
Well, this is all I have to say today. I really enjoyed passing on advice that has helped me so much. I am not a perfect writer–no matter how much I have learned–and have days where everything I write is crap. But I always remind myself that no one is perfect, and writing is a complex craft that always needs perfecting.
- Learning the Literary Ropes (answers.com)
- How to Plot by the Numbers (wordservewatercooler.com)
- Be a Storyteller First (selfpubauthors.com)