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2002-04-18 16:52:07 (UTC)

Five Golden Rules For Beginning Writers

Golden Rule #1: Avoid dwelling on past work: get on with it.
This is maybe the most important, and most difficult to
follow of the Golden Rules. There is actually a subset of
rules under this category, since there are many ways
to "dwell" and many things to dwell on. Take heed, then,
that thou shalt never:

... stop writing for a time because you received a
discouraging rejection letter. Whether or not you've been
published yet, mark a file folder "Acceptance Letters" and
expect to fill it eventually. Your day will come.
... stop writing for a time because you've completed
something or because you've had an acceptance. There is a
tendency to relax, to say: "Ah, I've done it." Savor the
moment, sure; but don't get overly lazy with your writing.
Move on to your next project.
... reread every sentence, paragraph, etc. after you've
just written it. Learn to disengage your "editor" self
until the work is finished -- you'll be much more efficient
and prolific this way.

Golden Rule #2: Accept rejection gleefully!
Well, maybe not "gleefully." But it is true: you can learn
from rejections. Therefore:

Test your work on other writers you admire and listen to
what they bring up, both the compliments and the
If you receive a rejection letter that contains comments on
why your piece was turned down, read it, file it, and think
about it; decide if you should edit the work some more
before sending it out again. Chances are if the editor took
the time to write a note to you, they saw some kind of
potential in your work -- that's the next best thing to
being accepted!
Finally, remember that you must study your markets
carefully, and be selective about what article, story, etc.
you send to what publication. Rejection might simply
indicate that you sent your work to the wrong place.

Golden Rule #3: Keep track of everything ... everything.
If you are sending stuff out to editors, you must keep
track of what you send, where you send it, and when you
send it.

One good way to keep a log is to create a table, either
with your word processor or by hand, with columns marked
for: 1. Title of work or query; 2. Title of journal,
magazine, etc. you sent to; 3. Date sent; 4. Date accepted
or rejected (mark A or R, date); 5. Other places the work
was sent.
Make sure not to leave out 5, since you don't want to waste
time re-sending a piece to somewhere it has been turned
down. You might want to mark beside 2 how long you expect
to wait for a reply, if you have this information.
Print off extra copies of your cover letters and keep them
in a file with the submitted pieces attached.
You might also want to log how many hours you spend writing
each day, week, etc., to help keep you honest.
Organize your correspondence, research materials, notes,
and other important documents and keep them in handy
portable file boxes.

Golden Rule #4: Write about what interests you.
Everyone has heard the sermon about writing "what you
know." It's good to keep in mind, however, that what you
don't yet know can be learned, through research or contact
with other people.

As long as it interests you, it's a topic worthy of
pursuing. Go to the library and look it up; watch a
documentary; conduct interviews with experts; listen to
people's stories, memories and impressions. Then write.
If it bores you silly, but you feel you should write about
it because: (a) it's a marketable subject/theme; (b)
someone has asked you to write about it; (c) everyone else
is writing about it; or (d) nobody else is writing about
it -- go ahead, if you'll receive proper compensation for
your boredom. If not, leave it alone.
If your subject excites you tremendously, but seems to bore
everyone else, you can: write it anyway because it's good
for the soul; scour the publishing world for a suitable
market, since there's bound to be someone who shares your
(possibly obscure) interest; or slant your article/story to
suit a particular publication.

Golden Rule #5: Stare at the wall; drink some coffee;

You can substitute the ceiling, some tea, and doodling if
you wish. As long as you get away from the work for a bit
to relax, ponder, daydream, pet the cat. "But that's a
waste of precious time," you say. Not true. On the
contrary: you can't ignore this rule and expect to flourish
as a writer. Why? Because "goofing off" actually serves to
fuel your imagination and restock your creative resources.
You can't expect to function physically without sleep,
right? Likewise, you can't expect to function as a writer
unless you occasionally . . .

Do other creative things, whether you're "good" at them or
not. Make a cartoon with stick figures. Try watercolors.
Take a dance class. Improvise a song while you shower.
Move around. You'll notice that your mind tends to go numb
at about the same point your butt does: that's your signal
to get up and take a walk outside, wrestle with the kids,
do Tai Chi, whatever. Just move.
Is there a character in your story who has been giving you
grief? Maybe you haven't gotten to know her properly yet,
or she you. Invite her to shuffle about your brain while
you peel potatoes and ask her a few questions -- you'll be
surprised at how agreeable she becomes.
Get out of the house! Or office. Cabin fever is a
continuous occupational hazard for writers, but you don't
have to succumb: get together with friends, or simply be
around other people in a public place.