Golden Rules for story writers to help you stay sane.
The Golden Rules
You can learn these nuggets of advice the easy way or the painful way.
It’s entirely up to you!
Every writer works in their own way.
Not all of the suggestions here on this site will suit your temperament.
I hope some will be helpful, but maybe none of them will.
The only criterion is: does it help you write more or better?
I’ve come across several books on How to Write A Screenplay (or whatever), evidently written by academics or script doctors who have never written a successful novel or screenplay themselves, and who haven’t realised there’s a huge difference between writing and rewriting.
I can’t think of many things more likely to kill a story than trying to use the techniques for fixing a second draft when you're still writing the first draft.
If you find something in any book that helps you write, that’s great.
But if you find yourself getting stuck on ‘doing it right’, then go back to whatever way you know works for you.
(Remember, the rough draft is meant to be rough. You can sort out the problems later.)
Hence, The Sanity Clause:
If it helps you write more or better, keep doing it that way.
If it doesn’t — then don’t.
Never Show Anyone Your Rough Draft
It’s an absolute rule that you must never show anyone your rough draft.
A rough draft is a precious thing.
It’s completely personal.
It’s the very first draft where you scribble everything down as it comes to you.
Frequently this is very bad writing — in fact it’s supposed to be very bad writing in places — and you need to feel confident that no one but yourself will ever see it.
Sometimes you may need to share your work-in-progress.
Perhaps you need to give a brand new scene to your writing partner, or you’re developing a story outline with a script editor, or you want some feedback from a trusted colleague — and it’s important for them to see it in an unfinished form.
In this case, polish your rough draft into a ‘working draft’ first.
Sleep on it; and then go through it in the cold light of day, doing a very basic rewrite and perhaps developing some of the ideas.
When you work on a project with anyone else (co-writer, editor, producer), it may be a good idea to get a written agreement before you start:
- who gets the copyrights
- who gets the credits
- who gets the money
It should be impossible for anyone to tell which real person you used as the model for any character.
Change their name, their age, their job, their mannerisms, their catchphrases — change as much as you can.
The same goes for ideas you’ve taken from other writers.
Change them to fit your own story and characters.
Do them in a different way.
Make them your own.
(Apart from anything else, it’s bad writing to use source material uncreatively.)
A musician friend once remarked that in our business we could plug away for twenty years before turning into an overnight success.
Many times since then I’ve wondered if persistence is actually more important than talent.
Successful writers are always the ones who kept persisting, sometimes for ten or twenty years, until they got somewhere.
You’re up against a wall of negativity.
This business is full of people who say No all day long.
Although editors and producers are constantly claiming they want to find new writers, the truth is they reject 50 scripts for each one they take an interest in.
So don’t take it personally when you get knockback after knockback.
It’s disheartening, but remember: only the writers who persist succeed.
Some people like to write in the morning.
Others prefer the middle of the night.
If you’ve got a daytime job, you may write at weekends.
Some write for three hours a day; others for seven or eight.
Whatever works best for you.
Just make sure that no one interrupts your ‘writing time’.
Family and friends find it very difficult to appreciate that you can’t rearrange your schedule ‘just this once’ to suit them.
And when you finish writing for the day, go out and meet people!
Writing at home is a very solitary life, and it’s important to keep up a good social life.
Join a gym or a local choir.
Take a class in plumbing.
Anything to socialise.