Friday, September 24, 2010

Rule #2: You Must Finish What You Write

Please forgive the lateness of this post.  Time got away from me last weekend.  I hope to be more timely in my posts to keep this blog active and up-to-date.

So we've covered the first of Heinlein's rules, you must write (and a good post on that is found here:  Now we come to rule #2: You must finish what you write.

If you're like me, you have a bunch of unfinished stories and novels taking up hard drive space on your computer.  Maybe it's an incomplete manuscript stuffed in a drawer.  But we start stuff, and then we leave it unfinished.  Why?

Sometimes things get unfinished because they need to be torn up and started over.  I once got well into a novel before I realized I was telling it from the wrong character's point of view.  There was no way to fix it, so that manuscript stayed unfinished and I redid the entire novel from scratch.  (I was very unhappy the day I realized I had to do that).

But more often we don't finish something because we run out of steam.  We lose interest in the project.  Or we hit a snag and we feel like we can't finish.

Or we get afraid.

Afraid that what we're writing is garbage.  That it's not good enough.  Our critical brain gets hold of us and hammers us to the point we just let the project die.

We don't trust the process.  We don't trust rule #1, which says "write!"  We don't trust ourselves.

If we want to succeed as writers, we not only need to write, but we need to finish our tales.  Let our creative brain run wild.  The story is in your head - let it out.

"Easy to say, Laura," I can hear you say.  "But how?"

I wish I had a nice and neat formula for you on that.  Truth is, I struggle with this rule just like you do.  Like I said, I have unfinished projects.  But here are a couple of things that might help.

-- If fear is what's holding you back, ignore it.  Finish the story.  Then send it out.

"But it's garbage!" you cry.  Who says?  You?  Writers are the worst judge of their own work.

Let me share a personal example.  I was at a writing workshop one time and assigned to write a short story that was fantasy noir (sounds fun, doesn't it?)

I'd never written noir before.  In fact, I wound up watching "LA Confidential" to get a feel for noir.  When I started the story, I was convinced it was awful.  Because I was under a tight deadline, I made myself finish the story, figuring at least I'd get it turned in finished and on time.  I was prepared to be told it was completely unworkable.

Upshot?  People loved it.  Thought I'd done a great job.

Like I said, we are awful judges of our own work.

-- Decide if a project needs to be restarted from the beginning.  As I said, sometime that happens.  Figure what you've done was a good first try and redraft the story from page one.  But do the redraft - and finish the story.

-- Find tricks to work through snags.  Sometimes we run into project block.  Maybe you need to throw in something wacky to get the story moving along.  Or you need to write a brief outline of the story to see where you are going.  Whatever trick works for you, use it.

And have fun.  I forget to do that sometimes, because writing is my career right now.  But I started it because I enjoy making stuff up.  Go back to that, play with your stories, let your imagination have its way.  You might be surprised at what happens when you do that - you might even finish your stories!

Well, this blog post is finished.  I'm sure it could be better, but it's done.  I hope it helps you.  If you have tips and tricks to share, please do so.  Maybe one of them will help me!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Rule #1: You Must Write.

The first rule Robert Heinlein listed is, "you must write."

On the surface, that sounds like a no-brainer.  Writers are people who write, aren't they?  So doesn't it follow that a writer will be putting words on paper (or computer screen)?

Well, maybe, maybe not.  Because we can come up with all kinds of excuses not to write without trying too hard.

We can't write because we don't have time.  Or the muse is on vacation.  Or no one will buy our stuff.  Or we don't feel like it.  Or, or, or...(insert favorite excuse here).

Dean Wesley Smith, a writer who is a friend and mentor, says "if you can be discouraged in this business, you should be."  If you don't want to write, there are plenty of reasons not to.  But if you want to be a writer, you have to figure out how to produce new words on a regular basis.

I'm coming out of a period of time where I struggled with this first rule because anytime I sat down to try to write something I became afraid.  Yes, you read that correctly.  I was afraid to write.

I'm not sure why.  I'm starting a new project that is intimidating in the work it will involve.  I'm not sure I can pull it off. That fear has sent me running from the keyboard to even doing housework (which, if you know me, is a pretty drastic thing).

How am I working on it?  Aside from this week, when I've been concentrating on another one of Heinlein's rules, I would make myself sit down at my laptop, and I couldn't get up until I had produced at least 500 words.

I played mind games with myself.  I'd let myself play a game first, sneaking up on the writing.  I made a note of the time I wanted to start writing.  About two minutes before starting, I'd quit the game and gear up to write.  And I stayed put until I got those words written.

I help care for my in laws.  That means, among other things, I don't have a set time to write.  So I look for opportunities.  I've written at all hours of the day.  I've written in bed, at airports, doctor's offices, coffee shops, hotel rooms - and that's just a partial list.  I can't wait for an ideal time to write, because all too often the ideal doesn't show up.

Writing is like any other profession.  If you want it, you can't wait for the time to do it.  You have to make it a priority.  A writer writes.  So do what you have to, but sit down and write.

Oh, and let me mention something else.  500 words doesn't sound like a lot - it's two manuscript pages.  But here's the math: 500 words a day = over 180,000 words, which is the equivalent of two novels.  And I can often bang those words out in twenty minutes to a half hour. 

So write!  Every word brings you closer to your goal.  Next week we'll talk about finishing what we write.

Heinlein's Five Rules of Writing

Many years ago author Robert A. Heinlein put forth five rules of writing.  It is said that if a person follows these rules faithfully, they will succeed as a writer.

The rules are as follows:

1) You must write.
2) You must finish what you write.
3) You must not rewrite, except to editorial demand.
4) You must send out what you write.
5) If it is rejected, you must send it out to another editor.

They sound so simple, don't they?  Yet I don't know any writer who hasn''t struggled with one or more of these steps at some time.  Me?  I've fought every last one of them.  Still am fighting them.

Over the next few weeks I want to touch on each of these steps - how I understand them, why they're harder then they look, and why they work.  I hope it encourages some of you in your writing career and that maybe I'll gain some insight from you as well!