Eight Rules for Writing (or eight more rules for writing?)

In Homer, 2016 has been a year of rain and dark so far. Oh, I know it will get better and we will eventually return to the light, but this year has been dreary. And because I’ve been reading so many “dark” books lately, I’ve taken to reading a little snippet of Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane each evening before bed. It’s a pretty dark book as well, but Gaiman’s skill is so comforting, so assured, that I feel as if I am wrapped in a whole world that conforms to what little-girl Erin thought the world would be. And in that, even with the scary material, I am at ease.

I admire Gaiman’s writing quite a bit. He’s actually a good poet as well as short story and novelist. And his famous New Year’s quotes have been passed around on the internet so much lately, that I dug up his Eight Rules of Writing to share with you this week.

  1. Write.
  2. Put one word after another. Find the right word, put it down.
  3. Finish what you’re writing. Whatever you have to do to finish it, finish it.
  4. Put it aside. Read it pretending you’ve never read it before. Show it to friends whose opinion you respect and who like the kind of thing that this is.
  5. Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.
  6. Fix it. Remember that, sooner or later, before it ever reaches perfection, you will have to let it go and move on and start to write the next thing. Perfection is like chasing the horizon. Keep moving.
  7. Laugh at your own jokes.
  8. The main rule of writing is that if you do it with enough assurance and confidence, you’re allowed to do whatever you like. (That may be a rule for life as well as for writing. But it’s definitely true for writing.) So write your story as it needs to be written. Write it ­honestly, and tell it as best you can. I’m not sure that there are any other rules. Not ones that matter. 

I’ll take a moment to remind you that there are many many fine workshops and online classes being offered this spring. They are all up on the website and you should register for one (or more). Take advantage of the talent in and from our state. I’m especially proud of the Danger Close: Alaska writing workshop that is a joint project with Words After War; Standing Together, a special initiative of the National Endowment for the Humanities; the Alaska Humanities Council, and the amazing Matt Komatsu. Check that out.

And don’t forget to laugh at your own jokes. Even if they aren’t funny.

take care,

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