The internet is full of blogs and websites that tell us what to do. As writers, we are especially prone to finding posts and forums dedicated to what every writer must do to succeed.
Query advice abounds. POV, tense and style are big items of concern. Everybody has an opinion on web presence and platform. It’s amazing that writers stay sane with all the differing commentary on what absolutely, positively must be done for a writer to succeed in this business.
We can spend endless hours researching our next move, only to find ourselves more confused than when we started. In my experience, I’ve learned that we create more problems than necessary by trying to keep everyone happy. It’s simply not possible. Nor is it desirable. At least in my opinion.
I just got done writing my parent handbook for my preschool. In it, I wrote our House Rules so parents know going in what is expected of their children. The rules are simple and can apply to our lives as writers.
- Never hurt anyone on the inside or the outside. Kids pinch, bite, hit or call names as reactions to their emotions. Sometimes they lash out with the intent to hurt. Other times hurting someone is a by-product of unchecked behavior. Writers are often guilty of loading a manuscript with messages or agendas. We have been known to use our writing as a platform to air our side of the story. However, our utmost responsibility in writing fiction is to give our readers a pleasure trip. If we want to rail against abuse, we should write an article for a magazine, not couch it in the form of a novel, because ending our tales as a moral lesson will feel like a slap in the face to our readers.
- No Swearing. A wise person once told me that people swear because they have limited vocabularies. While I don’t feel this is entirely true, the gist of his statement is. We use comfortable and familiar words when we communicate. They might not always be the best choice, but they are readily available and therefore over-used. When writing, we must choose our words carefully. Every word must matter. So, edit, edit and edit some more. Avoid clichés and shock-value words. Pull out run-ons and echoes. Then edit once again.
- Respect the Environment. Kids think nothing of dropping a gum wrapper on the ground or scribbling on a chair with permanent marker. At least until they learn the impact of their actions on the world around them. Writers have been known to forget the impact of their words on the environment as well. It is easy to hide behind an avatar and say something we otherwise would not say. Anonymity allows for a certain comfort level that invites heated commentary and slanderous debate. We have a responsibility to respect the world around us and those who populate it. To do otherwise can make the difference between getting published or not. In short, the way we conduct ourselves can make or break our writing careers.
- Respect for Elders. Kids simply must learn who is in charge. They must learn to follow the expectations of the adults in their lives even if they don’t understand them or always agree with them. And if they disagree, they must learn to express this respectfully and discuss things appropriately. In the writing biz, agents and editors are our elders. We work hard to impress them. We ask them to spend their time and money backing us. Yet, writers have been known to spout off after a rejection or a disagreement. They haven’t learned that respect is earned and that we get what we give.
- Abide by Personal Space. Everybody has a comfort zone. Kids will come right up and stick their noses into someone else’s business. Literally. Writers, this is a mistake we don’t want to make. It’s called annoying at best and stalking at worst. Don’t submit fourteen manuscripts at one time. Don’t slide your manuscript under the bathroom stall at a conference. Don’t send a potential agent a box of her favorite chocolates and a picture of you in the buff. Writing is a professional business. If you wouldn’t stalk the principal at school or the CEO at the office, certainly don’t annoy the agents and editors who are in charge of your destiny.
My advice: Know the Rules and Be Consistent.
Kids want boundaries. They want to understand how to interact with their peers and their elders. They thrive when they know what is expected and why. Kids inherently want to be good. But dangit all, they also want to have fun. So do we.
Writer, know thy craft. Read books to better understand the genre you are writing. Then write the story you feel in your heart. POV doesn’t matter as long as it is consistent. Tense won’t make or break your story. Don’t write to a trend. Your job is to write–consistently and well.
Tell your story. By trying to incorporate every slice of advice you’ve ever read, your story no longer belongs to you. It will be a regurgitated, lifeless lump of words that nobody will want to read. Even you.
If you decide to break a rule, do so consciously because you think it will better your story. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. But the point is, if you break the rules without understanding them (grammar, punctuation, POV, personal space, respect, tense, etc.) you’re just being naughty and deserve to be punished with a rejection. If you can justify that certain circumstances require bending the rules, you just might succeed.
But above all, be consistent. If you break POV, don’t do it one time when the MC is knocked out cold and simply cannot relate what must be relayed to the reader. This is a cop-out. Find a way to break outside your POV in a way that is consistent and works for the story you tell.
If you must send an agent a box of chocolates, do so because it makes sense. For example, the recipe is your award-winning concoction that you sell at your own confectionary boutique and will be included in the book because the unique candy is the key to solving the murder mystery.
But always, and I do mean always, withhold the picture of you in the buff.
What have you learned along your writing journey that you wish you had known before starting out?