Rule 8. Write where you are most comfortable being weird.

In the movie, The Whole Wide World, Vincent D’Onofrio portrays Robert E. Howard, creator of Conan the Barbarian.

One scene that struck me was of Howard at his typewriter screaming out prose as he typed. I don’t know if that was true of Howard, but I do understand it. I have my own quirks when I write. You probably won’t see them because I do most of my writing alone.

That is where I am most comfortable.

That’s me. If you’re one of those people who need a crowd, or like to sit in a coffee shop and write, that’s great. But if you find that you really aren’t being productive, consider it might not be the environment distracting you.

It might be performance anxiety. You might want to cut loose with a string of choice four-letter words, laugh out loud, thump on the table in frustration, but you don’t because you are in a public place. To so would make you, and likely those around you, uncomfortable.

I feel comfortable writing by myself. There is no competition with other writers who type faster than me, no idle chatter to draw my attention, no pastries that I really don’t need but will likely buy. Just me, my keyboard, and my imagination.

And the internet. You know, for research and stuff.


Rule 7. Finish your WIPs

So often writers begin a project, then—SQUIRREL! They get distracted by an idea for another project and drop everything to



Rule 6. If you can, join a good critiquing group. Other writers will make your work better and vice versa.

It’s difficult beginning a writing career. For the most part you’ve no idea how good you are. Sure, your family thinks you’re the next bestseller, and your friends are mildly impressed you can string words together to form a sentence, but every submission you send comes back rejected.

What do you do?

Every writer needs feedback to grow and to improve their craft. That feedback isn’t going to come from people who don’t want to hurt your feelings. What you need is good critiquing group. Unfortunately, getting into one isn’t easy.

So many writers are introverts. They like nothing better than to be left alone and write, emerging occasionally from their mental cocoon to get some tea or coffee, check their emails, and maybe spend too much time on social media. Here is where the Internet can be a good thing. There are online groups you can join such as Critters Writers Workshop. It’s free to join, with a simple quid pro quo for getting critiques for your work.

While Critters is a great entry-drug, nothing beats a face-to-face critiquing group. This is even harder to get together. First you have to find the right people, settle on the logistics of location, decide on a suitable time for all to attend, and most importantly, who will bring the snacks. You can try to get into an established group, but I advise against it.  Instead, find other writers that are on the same level as you and have the same goals for success. You will soon discover you each have different strengths and weaknesses. You will challenge each other to become better writers. But if all anyone wants to do is get out of the house and share poetry, move on.

So, where to find these people?

Well, going to local genre conventions is a great place to network. Posting on the bulletin board of your local public library is another source. And of course there is our old friend Social Media. I was asked to join my group The Stop-Watch Gang because I’d gone to conventions, made connections so that when the group formed my name came up. Joining the Gang was the best decision of my career.

Okay, you’ve gathered a small group, now what?

Establish rules of conduct and of critiquing. We’re called the Stop-Watch Gang because we time our critiques. Literally. We have five minutes set on a watch. When the five minutes are up an alarm goes off and we stop. That way we avoid extraneous nitpicks and get right into the nitty-gritty. At the end of the critiques the author is free to respond and there is usually a little back and forth on how to fix things. You might think this harsh, but consider we were critiquing 3-4 stories a meeting with some 5-7 members. If you did the math…multiply by 3…carry the one…ah, well, that’s a long time. Anyway, it’s a process that works for us.

Another benefit of a good group is the support you get from them. Writing is hard and while the successes are great, sometimes you just find yourself floundering. A good group can bolster your confidence and reenergize you. Meeting for critiques or just getting together for a lunch is like going to a mini-convention. Usually a few of us go to the same local conventions and have at least one meal together. If we are there in force we might even try to organize our own panel.

That kind of camaraderie is invaluable, especially if you’re an introvert like me.



Rule 5. Learn to spell. Editors aren’t your personal spellchecker.

Believe it or not editors are on your side. They want you to succeed because your success is their success. They also know that, no matter how perfect your story might be, it’s probably going to need some help. A little more characterization here, a little less words there, and yes, correcting the occasional spelling error.

It happens to all of us.

But when your spelling errors become a drinking game and your editor is falling down drunk after the first paragraph, well, then both you–and your editor–have a problem.

You laugh. You scoff. Spelling is a breeze. Well, let me tell you a story. A couple years ago I went back to college as a student so mature that the majority of my classmates were only two years older than my eldest daughter. One of the first semester classes was <gasp> English. Practically remedial English like grammar and, yes, spelling. And half these kids fresh out of high school who laughed, who scoffed, who swore outside of the classroom that spelling was a breeze found themselves struggling. Some even failed. Imagine my shock when the instructor actually announced that words at the beginning of a sentence must begin with capital letters…

The instructor blamed texting. I blamed the school system.

Here is another story of an aspiring writer who couldn’t understand why his stories were getting rejected. I looked over his latest submissions, and of the many glaring formatting mistakes was his atrocious spelling. When I told him, he went, “Huh. I thought they would take care of that.”

Editors are not your personal spellchecker. They are in fact very busy people. They have more than just your story to read. They do more than just read all day.  When they do actually begin editing your story, they want to get into the nitty gritty to make your story better. Correcting countless spelling mistakes is not part of that process.

A final story. This guy submitted a story to an anthology. The story was perfect for the theme and he really wanted to get into that anthology. He got rejected. What the heck, he thought and reread his submission only to discover a glaring spelling mistake in the first sentence and three in total with the first paragraph.

I’m still kicking myself. Lesson learned.



Rule 4. You missed a day of writing?!!!! meh…

So, my intention was to blog a writing rule every week. Fourth week in and I missed one. No, I didn’t do it on purpose, it just worked out that way. Sometimes life gets in the way. Sometimes other projects take precedence. Sometimes you just don’t wanna do it.

As a life-long procrastinator I say, it’s okay.

NanoWrimo is one of my favorite pet peeves. Every year so many people get geared up, making plans and promises, then come the posts on social media:

…I missed my word count…

…I’m sick today…

…I’ve had a limb amputated…

I’m not going to make my Nano goal this year! My life is over! I am worthless!

No, your life is not over and you are not worthless.

The fact is you will miss your word count, you will occasionally get too sick to write, and if you aren’t careful you may well lose a limb. It isn’t the end of the world. Well, the limb part might be…in retrospect probably not the best example.

You have to understand and accept that, despite your dedicated time allotment, your discipline, your multiple awards perched atop your desk for inspiration, you will miss a day or even a week. It happens. And it’s okay. The real discipline is picking it up again as soon as you can and finish your work-in-progress.

Do that and hold your head up high, because you are a writer.