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.

 

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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.

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Rule 3. Read. A lot. Of anything.

Why this even needs to be said is a mystery. You want to be a writer. You want others to read what you’ve written. Yet you don’t feel the need to read anything others have written?

Good luck with your career as a wannabe.

Every professional author will tell you the importance of reading, especially in your selected genre. Odds are you already do. After all, why not write what you love, right? The key to this advice, however, isn’t only to read for your personal enjoyment, but to learn from what you’re reading. Pay attention to style, to structure, character development, and most importantly to plot. That last thing you want to do is write an entire novel based on robots that have certain rules encoded in them so they can’t hurt humans, and then read I, Robot by Isaac Asimov.

Still, in these modern times, finding the time…or the desire to read can be difficult. Writers with day jobs and family responsibilities who can scrape together 15-30 minutes of free time usually try to fill it with, well, writing…if they have the energy to move at all. Of course there are opportunities where you can pick up a book and read, they just require a bit of sacrifice. Instead of chatting with your friends during lunch, read. Instead of streaming movies on your tablet while taking public transit, read. If you’re a commuter, audio books are a great way to catch up on books. When baby goes down for that afternoon nap…uh, well, okay, do whatever you want.

There is more to read than just your chosen genre. Read anything and everything that catches your fancy. If it doesn’t catch your fancy, move on. Read all forms of fiction, non-fiction, magazines, Twitter, the back of a cereal box, whatever. It’s all information, educational, and food for your creativity. How many people have read a certain science article about prehistoric insects trapped in amber and thought, hmm cool?

Michael Crichton read that same article and thought, hmm, dinosaurs.

 

 

 

Writing is a skill with a constant learning curve. Think of reading as a pleasant form of on-the-job training.

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Rule 2. “Write what you know” doesn’t mean you can’t write about mountain climbing just because you’re not a mountain climber. It means do some research so your characters can fake being a mountain climbers.

“Write what you know” is one of the most misunderstood pieces of advice to new writers, probably because it’s often comes without much explanation and usually given by people who don’t know any better. They’ve read Louis L’Amour, Jack London, Ernest Hemingway and believe the only way to get the feel and accuracy for any topic is to have lived the life of your protagonist character. While traveling the world and living the life of adventure is great, it’s not very practical for the average writer. Fortunately, we have other resources to achieve that verisimilitude that would give even the most anal expert pause.

Interviews are a great source of information, especially for that special nuance that makes your world believable. Need to know something about a specific occupation, ask someone who does that job. What do employees call the drive-thru window station? What does a trucker mean when they, “hit the binders?” This is gold that will make your characters real and come alive. Writing about events in the past? Talk to relatives, neighbors, people who’ve been there. They’ve already done the grunt work.

Books. Histories. Biographies. Travelogues. Not only are these wonderful sources of information, but look great in the bookcase for that author photo. If budget is a problem books can be found relatively cheaply at yard sales and the bargain bins in bookstores.

Of course, there is everyone’s frenemy, the Internet. Just be careful when using such sites as Wikipedia. It’s a great resource if you need a quick fix or confirming what you already knew, but if it’s a major plot issue try for at least two sources of corroborating evidence.

In short, sure a PhD might be helpful, but it’s far from being a prerequisite to writing a good story. Just do some research. Then you will write what you know.

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Rule 1. To be a writer you must actually write. Well…duh.

There is this show on television called NCIS and the lead character has a list of work rules which the other characters are ‘encouraged’ to learn and follow. It’s kind of a running gag, when they encounter some unexpected situation they would bring up one of the rules. I actually own a t-shirt with the rules.

Then I got to thinking, over the years I’ve compiled my own set of rules on writing and publishing; an amalgamation of other rules and personal experiences. Some are painfully obvious, others are open for interpretation and debate, but what the Hell, why not make my own T-shirt?

Then I thought it might be cheaper to write some weekly blog posts instead.

So, without further ado I present Mike’s Rules for Writing and Getting Published.

Rule 1. To be a writer you must actually write. Well…duh.

Ridiculously obvious, right? Top of the list advice from almost every published professional author.

And yet…

So many times I’ve heard writing students absolutely amazed when instructors/mentors impart this piece of wisdom upon them. Oh, the glowing praise for said instructors. Incredibly, some even take credit for it.

So what does this all mean? Well, evidently some people must have thought writing was some kind of magical or psychic phenomena that happened through sheer force of will.

Or elves. Whatever. It doesn’t happen that way.

Writing is a discipline. It takes time. It requires sacrifice. There are only so many hours in the day and if you got a job or a young family, or you like to sleep, you’ll discover time to write is a precious commodity. While family and the need to pay rent might not be so forgiving, leisure time is, well, leisure time. You may need to trade off watching that TV show or going out with your friends for some quality time at the keyboard, or with pen and paper, or even dictation for those with that rare skill set. Write a sentence, then a paragraph, then a page. Just do it, and do it regularly. You might never be a published writer, but you will be a writer, but for that to happen you actually have to sit down and write.

And all those creative writing instructors out there, stop taking credit for the idea. You know who you are.

 

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