Random laws of writing
According to one of our celebrated, practically knighted novel instructors, Sir William Haywood Henderson, there are some absolutes to this chaotic art we practice. Check them out and add your own.
Ten random thoughts about writing:
He looks perfectly nice, but don't mess with Hendy's rules.
- First drafts suck. So do second and third drafts. Get used to it. Fourth drafts are a little better. With draft twelve you’re starting to get somewhere.
- You don’t have to write about what you know—but you do have to do your research, and you have to write what you feel.
- There’s no such thing as writer’s block—you can always write something, even if you’re just writing notes. Eventually some of those words will help you find an entry into something interesting.
- If you’re serious about improving your writing you need to challenge yourself. Read amazing, difficult writers. Read poetry. Reading crappy books won’t teach you anything. Aim high.
- To get yourself started when you’re stuck, start copying out a page from a great book, a book that comes to mind when you think of the project you’re working on. Get the feel of great language and intelligence in your hand—hand write, don’t type! After a few lines you’ll find yourself back in your own text. Of course, don’t let any of that copied work appear in your own text.
- You’re not writing in a vacuum. Try on different literary voices. Try to channel Faulkner. You’ll learn a lot, and as you progress as a writer you’ll retain only the aspects of other writers that add to your own voice, and the other aspects will fall away.
- Read your work out loud. Do you stumble over some of your own words? Work on those parts.
- Pay attention to the world. What do you see? What do you care about? Pursue topics that matter to you, and shape your writing through your own lens.
- Always keep the ideal of your essay or story or poem or novel in your mind as you write. Every word is a step toward that ideal. Every choice you make is guided by what you understand of the “whole” you’re creating.
- You could work forever on a piece of writing. It’s hard to let go. But try to go as far as you can before you hand it off to your readers. You don’t want someone to tell you something about your text that you already know needs fixing; you are looking for people to point out things you didn’t already know.
What do you think? Are you a certified bandit? Can you think of more rules?