There are many unwritten rules about writing, and countless writers have tried to compile them, written in stone, with blood, and bound in the flesh of a dead muse. But there are no rules, not really, just guidelines. Pointers from the writers that have gone before, shared from lessons learned through pain.
Don’t start a sentence with But. Only use said to label dialogue. Don’t start a story on a dark and stormy night. The list is as meaningless as it is endless. Rules are there to be broken, but, there is value in knowing that the rule exists.
But. There is one rule that every new writer would do well to heed.
Do not talk about writing.
It’s very exciting, writing a book. You’re struck with a fabulous idea, colourful characters that live inside your head, extraordinary places that tease of mystery and adventure. You’re bursting to get it all out and on to the page. And like everything else that excites you, you want to share this with everyone.
One day, a day like any other, you’ll take that idle story idea and decide to put it to the page. You’ve taken the first step to becoming a writer. Its a big step, adrenaline courses through your veins, you tell your family about it, and because your family care about you, they are excited for you. You tell your friends, and likewise, they are excited for you.
“Good for you”, they say. “Sounds exciting”
And it is exciting. You’ve embarked on an amazing journey, with highs and lows as big as any faced by Bilbo Baggins and his ilk.
“There’s dragons and vampires and castles behind waterfalls under the sea of rainbows” you tell them.
“Sounds amazing” they tell you, and they’re not lying. “Can’t wait to read it!”
And that’s where the problems begin. The hurt. The crippling sadness that confines 97% of all promising manuscripts and writer career dreams to the bin of shame.
You have to write the thing, and that’s the hard part. Writing is work. Lonely work. It takes determination, and belief in yourself to see it through, and that’s where this one important rule begins to exert it’s influence.
Those friends and family that you told about your book, the ones hooked on that premise of the scooter riding mermaid, they want to know more. They were excited for you, they want to know how you’re getting along.
By now, you’re probably a few chapters in, but you’ve hit writers block. Writers block is real, not every writer gets it, but it’s real. Only the writers lucky enough to not suffer it will suggest that it’s not real, but what do they know. But anyway, you’ll reach the stage where you’re not making enough progress for your own liking, and to an outsider, it looks like you’ve done sod all.
About a year later, a friend, a colleague, a stranger in the bakery, or whoever, will ask how your book is coming along.
“Have you published yet?” They’ll say.
And though they mean well, it’s like a punch in the gut. You’ll have spent the last twelve months agonising over your book. Writing yourself in to corners, forming plot holes and switching names of characters at random, and back again, for no reason. Your confidence in yourself and your writing will be at an all time low, and then here you are, explaining why you’ve failed.
You haven’t failed, you just haven’t yet finished what turned out to be an immense piece of work, but you feel like a failure inside, and it will take all your strength to get back in the writing chair.
Then of course, there are the friends that want to help out. You knock out the first few chapters and you wang em over to your mate to digest and tell you how great it is. But in your excitement, you’ve sent them the very first draft, unedited, barely even proofread. You know what you meant in those missing words, and those bits of place holder text in red font, but they don’t.
Your friend, being a pall, doesn’t want to tell you that your inevitably awful first draft is awful. They’ve put themselves in an awkward spot. They don’t ask you about your writing any more. You go through that awful draft again and wince at the typos, errors and omissions, and your confidence drops even further.
Soon, the only person asking about your writing is the twat at work, the one that you didn’t even talk to about writing in the first place, but had found out from someone else. “Haven’t you finished that yet’? Their head seems to inflate like a giant smug balloon, and once again, you feel terrible about the thing that was supposed to bring you joy, your writing.
There is so much pain to be saved by following that rule. Writing is lonely work, ill understood by the non-writer. Time spent doubting yourself, and pouring over the reactions of others, basking in false glory of publicly and prematurely announcing your book, then dining on ashes. It’s all time and effort best spent working on the book itself.
Obviously. No man, or woman, is an island, and you can’t do it alone. But there are places where writers gather. Find them, hang out, ask for help, but don’t take the eyes of the prize, and when among non-writers, don’t talk about writing.