I stumbled back across this old post and I thought it might be interesting to think about how these 10 writing rules/tips I came up with 4 years ago hold up in my mind and my life and my heart. Here’s the old post, and I’ll intersperse with “personal thoughts” along the way.
THE RKL 10 WRITING RULES-ish – Old Poste
I’m getting the feeling people don’t like Writing Rules, they don’t want a rigid structure of how it works to get worlds out of your brain, and they certainly didn’t warm to those laid down by Jonathan Franzen, but I’ll admit, I find them fascinating. A word I choose carefully.
“I actually want to put together a collection of every writing rules list I can find. See what I can sift out of the collective hive mind.”
I want to know what the masters think we should hold in our highest esteem, I want to know it from my peers, and nascent writers, and plenty of others. I want to look into everyone’s head and see what roads they follow. I won’t necessarily follow those rules, or even care about them, but the process of having them to read absolutely fascinates me. It’ll tell me more about the person’s mindset and style than it will about any universal truth of writing.
I dig books about writing, I dig blogs and podcasts and tweets about writing. I use them like I’m building up a pantry, but when I write I’m just cooking. I might have everything stockpiled, but I’ll only take out what I need for a specific recipe when the time comes. You dig?
“I absolutely cannot think without an analogy involved, can I? I’m like a mule with a spinning wheel… :[“
But, in the spirit, I wanted to attempt to carve out my own ten tips, just suggestions, just from me, and then I could see what I thought rose to the top, so here goes:
“How arrogant to think anyone would care. But I think, at its heart, all writing is a form of arrogance to some degree.”
The RKL Top 10 Writing
1 – Your story must be about stuff. And that stuff isn’t just a list of the things that happen, it’s why those things will matter to the reader, the truths beneath it all, the theme. Your writing will be amateur until you have something of meaning to say.
“This is a tricky one, because we don’t often set out with a theme at first and then start writing. Though I know some writers who absolutely do have an area or an idea on which they wish to say something, and then they craft a story around it. I don’t quite work that way, but this rule is mostly something to consider because you know the inverse – when you’ve written something and it’s completely hollow. Maybe this shouldn’t be #1 – and maybe it should be more about reflecting on your work and finding the truth you’ve laid down. Hrmm.”
2 – Write so 1000 people will absolutely love you, not so 100,000 will think you’re kinda alright.
“This I stand by. Don’t chase fads. Don’t water yourself down. Writing is an act of bleeding on the page, don’t try to bleach out the stains.”
3 – Write about whatever gets you excited to sit down and write.
“You know this is true whenever you try the inverse.”
4 – Set small writing goals. 500 words/2 script pages a day. Then blast through them, sometimes.
“Set goals. Sometimes meet them. Perfect compromise.”
5 – Have only one tab open while you’re writing.
“Don’t do what Donny Don’t Does. I stand by this rule, I wish I could do it more often. Hyperfocus.”
6 – Think on paper.
“I proselytise this in every classroom I occupy. The brain just works better this way.”
7 – Are all your default lead characters straight white dudes? Why?
“One of those rules that’s also to remind myself.”
8 – Write whatever you want. Any genre, any length, any format. You might not find a paying home for it, but you’ll be true to yourself.
“Is this too similar to #2 and #3? Am I padding to hit 10 tips? Maybe on all counts. But it’s about form. Don’t lock yourself into being only a poet, nothing else. Remember: even Dickens wrote a weird ghost story.”
9 – Be inspired by your heroes, but don’t ape them. Let them fuel you with the courage to be yourself.
“Find those authors and those books and fill a room in them. Then spend time in that room.”
10 – Recharge your brain so it has more to write about. Read comics, watch movies, study the world, live life.
“This, when done well, should cycle you back to #1 – have something to say. Your writing will have something to say when you have something to say, and you’ll always want to say something about the things on which you are passionate. Find things in your life that stir up those muddy waters within.”
These points are very clearly by me, for me, and just for me. If you find them interesting, I’m glad. If they help you sharpen your own Top 10, fantastic. If your 10 are the polar opposite of mine, fill your boots, I bet we can still be mates.
I write about stuff like this all the time in my newsletter, statistically, there’s a chance one of you will like it, so here’s the link – ryanklindsay.substack.com
“I like stuff like this because it allows certain ideas and thoughts to be brought up to the front of my brain for a minute. It’s like any cool information, it’s not that we don’t already have it in our head, it’s that we don’t access it a lot. I know tiger sharks fight in the womb and eat their sibling before birth, but I don’t think about it often, so when I do it fills my brain with wonder about nature, and ideas about characters, and I’m all the better for having the idea brought to the top of the brain soup for a minute so I can dine on it momentarily.“