Rules for Writing and Life, but definitely for Writing

This week I’ve spent quite a bit of time pumping the journalistic iron, and posting articles for Outside the Redzone, but I’ve done a lot of thinking about fiction writing. (I know, that doesn’t really count, but work with me here. I’m a busy guy.)

Cover of "American Gods: A Novel"
Cover of American Gods: A Novel

One of the things I found out this week excited me greatly. One of my favorite authors of all-time, Neil Gaiman, has signed on with HBO to adapt his bestselling novel, American Gods, into a TV series. Holy crap, that’s exciting!

Gaiman’s novels Neverwhere and Stardust are on my short-list of all-time favs, and American Gods, plus its not-really-a-sequel sequel Anansi Boys, is amazing. And it was in my search for more information that I came across an article from The Guardian that was originally published in February of 2010 where Gaiman discusses his eight rules for writing fiction. Here they are:

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 it 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 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’ve read lists like this before, most notably’s Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing, and, as a Creative Writing student at FIU once upon a time, I took quite a few classes that purposed writing rules. There’s usually something of value in every such list, but I found a few particularly so from Gaiman’s list. (It helps that I’m such a fan.)

I found the first three pretty benign, but rule #4 caught my eye. I’ve asked friends to read my work before, but it never dawned on me to seek out those friends whose interests lie in the genre where my story resides. That might be why it’s been tough to get some of them to provide feedback. Either that or they’re lazy em-eff-ers. (Possible.)

Rule #6 is a difficult one for any writer to grasp, but, to quote good ol’ Morpheus, we must come “to realize the obviousness of the truth.” Our work will never be perfect.

Finally, it’s rule #8 I’m struggling with most of late. Specifically, the assurance and confidence bit. But I’ll keep working, and keep writing, and maybe one day I’ll get to do whatever it is I like.  And when I take breaks, I’ll be watching rewatching some American Gods episodes. Oh yeah.

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