Earlier this week, I read
White Oleander author Janet Fitch’s “10 rules for writers” on Jacket Copy, the
Los Angeles Times blog about “all things bookish.” I especially liked her
advice for scenes. “A scene starts in one place emotionally and ends in another
place emotionally. Starts angry, ends embarrassed. Starts lovestruck, ends
disgusted,” she wrote. “Something happens in a scene, whereby the character
cannot go back to the way things were before.”
Fitch put together great
tips, and, as I’ve mentioned on this blog before, I’m a sucker for these kinds
of lists, even when they go on for pages, as in the uber-list of writing rules.
Today, as I was editing
articles for the reprint of our special issue The Writer’s Guide to Fiction, I
reacquainted myself with Fear of Flying author Erica Jong’s fun approach to
writing rules, which we originally ran in our December 2003 issue. Check them
21 rules for writers
2. Dare to
3. Take your
mind off publication.
4. Write for
5. Get the
reader to turn the page.
politics (let your real politics shine through).
8. Forget ego.
9. Be a
11. Don’t think
your mind needs altering.
12. Don’t expect
approval for telling the truth.
that writing is dangerous if it’s any good.
15. Let sex (the
body and the physical world) in!
17. Tell our
truth, not the world’s.
18. Remember to
19. Remember to
20. Write for
the child (in yourself and in others).
21. There are no
What stands out for me are rules two, three and
four: Dare to
dream. Take your mind off publication. Write for joy.
We often receive questions from aspiring writers
who get wrapped up in legal or marketing scenarios for projects they haven’t
completed yet—and sometimes haven’t even started. It’s important to hold the
dream of publication or writing success—whatever that may mean to you—close to
your heart. Maybe just thinking of your name on the spine of a book can keep
you going when the writing gets tough. But in the meantime, as you’re working
on your writing, please set aside publication concerns that only serve to
distract you from your real task. Instead, focus on the joy of writing, on your
passion for your book, story, poem, essay, whatever it may be. Then, when it’s
finished, and you’ve made it the best it can be, you can start thinking about
sharing it with the rest of the world.
—Sarah C. Lange, associate editor
Writer’s Guide to Fiction will be available only on newsstands in October. It’s
packed with terrific advice for writing and publishing short stories and
novels, including literary agent Noah Lukeman’s piece about sending your
character on a profound journey and Pulitzer Prize winner Robert Olen Butler’s
article on the driving force behind plot. I love this special issue, and I
promise you that I’m not saying this just because I work for the magazine!
P.P.S. Yes, I went to Catholic grade school. No, a nun never hit my hand with a ruler.