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Black Gate 4

Ten Writing Thingies

Burger-Eater, aka the writer of Child of Fire and various Black Gate stories, aka Harry Connolly, recently linked to a list of various well-known writers’ list of top ten things writers should do. Recently he posted his own list, and so too did the talented Sherwood Smith. Much discussion ensued.


You can find both lists here, if you haven’t seen them already. It’s good stuff. Some of the lists to which Harry linked had suggestions I didn’t agree with – like always avoiding any dialogue tag but SAID, amongst other things – but there was good stuff there too. Some of it may work for you and some of it may not, but it's sure to get you thinking.


Harry Connolly's List 


Sherwood Smith's List


Looking at these two inspiring links got me to thinking what my own ten things were. So, hmm. Here's ten hard lessons that I learned to apply to my writing process:


  1. Well, stay off the danged internet is one of them. That’s why I write on a computer without internet access, and why I haven’t finished reading all the comments or writerly advice on all these threads yet. (I may be transforming into a crotchety hermit, I’m not sure.) 


  1. Harry says not to have a ritual because one day when you don’t have the music, or the notebook, or the chair and the thermos and the lamp or what have you handy, you won’t be able to write. He’s got a point, but I do think you need to recognize that you have to do something to move into the writing space. Maybe you could have a choice of rituals. Sometimes I do a few stretches before I sit down to work. Sometimes I put my hand on my notebook and take deep breaths for ten seconds or so. You’re entering a creative space. You can’t expect to just dive in from the regular world and make it happen.


          Or maybe you don’t need rituals at all. More power to you, then. I find them useful.


  1. Know what all the characters in the scene want before they come on stage.


  1. Don’t force it when you’re stuck – get up and pace, or do something else for a bit and let your subconscious wrestle with it.


  1. If the subconscious can’t wrestle it apart, then try plotting it out with a notebook, listing all the thoughts and possibilities as they come. These days I work through almost all of my writing problems this way.


  1. Always carry a notebook and writing utensil. Laptop, schmaptop. In the time it takes you to unlimber it and fire it up, you could already have jotted down a few notes, which is what a small NOTEbook is perfect for. Ideas, snatches of conversation, whatever. You can carry a notebook with you out to eat, or pull it out while there’s a train on the tracks, or while you’re out fixing the horse fence. You’re unlikely to have your laptop at any of those places.


  1. Let the background details play out gradually.


  1. Character interaction should move plot.


  1. Play to your strengths during the rough draft. For instance, I find dialogue easier than descriptive prose, and prefer editing, so I like to get the whole thing drafted, with big chunks of dialogue, then go back through and pretty it up.


  1. There is no Right Way up the mountain. Every writer has different methods, and different styles. Maybe you agree that you should never use anything but said for a dialogue tag, but make sure it’s your choice, not a thoughtless adoption because some expert said it. Do what works for you. Heck, what works for you one day may not work for you the next, so keep lots of tricks handy.

Right, well, go visit those other lists, or comment here if you'd like. I've already violated one of my other rules by taking too long to write this. I mean, if I have more than an hour to put this post together, shouldn't I be writing some fiction? Which reminds me, if you're reading this, or their lists during your writing time, stop. Your writing time should be sacred to the muse, so stop bringing other things into it. You'll get more work done and won't feel as guilty later for cheating on her. Or him. Whatever your muse is.


This is a terrific list. Number one is especially important. One thing I've learned about the internet is that I can't rely on my own self-discipline (since I don't have any.)

I hope everyone makes a list and posts it, published, unpublished, whatever.


"or while you’re out fixing the horse fence."

It IS a great list. And I found it while surfing the Internet to avoid writing.

And of course the highlight for me was your suggestion to have your notebook handy "while you’re out fixing the horse fence." Because I just know that happened to you. Doubtless you pulled out your notebook and started scribbling, while behind you three horses made a bid for freedom. Bet it took you 30 minutes and half a tank of gas to round them up again.

And I bet it was worth it. :)

John O'Neill

Re: "or while you’re out fixing the horse fence."

I think that was the day the big paint came over to visit while I was drilling a board into place and, no kidding, picked up the sack of nails with his teeth and tried to mosey off.