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March 19th, 2010

Ten more rules of writing

For some reason, I've seen a lot of these lists of writing rules lately. I've seen some that were okay, a lot that were completely ridiculous, and virtually none that list a number of things I consider pretty damn important. Here are ten things I've seen writers abuse the living hell out of lately, and I'm pissed about it, and it's my blog so I can say whatever I want.

#1 - Your bio is not your best fiction work. Really, I am sick and tired of writers who make boldfaced lies in their bios. During the last month, I've seen two writers claim to be Bram Stoker Award nominees...except they weren't. C'mon, people...do you really think no one is going to catch this shit, and you can just sail along on your lies forever? Even something as obtuse as " listed for a Bram Stoker Award" (whatever that means) is at best deceptive and at worst...a big fat lie. Somebody will bust you eventually, and it won't be pretty.

#2 - If you want to court controversy in your blog, don't do it with loads of hypocrisy. Don't write some profanity-laced blog post telling the world here's how it is...and meanwhile you've just contradicted yourself in an interview, or stiffed a contributor to that magazine you edit. It's like #1 above...this dirty laundry's gonna air sooner or later, and you're gonna be busted.

#3 - The editor is God, and you don't argue with God. I haven't yet had the misfortune of dealing with an argumentative writer I've rejected, but I have lots - LOTS - of editor friends who have, and I'm always aghast at the notion that any writer submitting a story would argue with a rejection. My editor friends tell me it's invariably the midlisters who throw these aggrieved tantrums, and I can only think: Well, there's one big reason they'll never rise above that midlist.

#4 - Thank people. Cripes, didn't your mom ever teach you this? It's common courtesy, and here are some examples of how to use it: If you score an interview in a magazine, thank the magazine for giving you all that free space. If you receive really detailed feedback on a submission, thank the editor/agent/publisher for taking the time. If you get a great blurb from someone, thank them profusely. I sent Dennis Etchison a gift card for the blurb he gave me for The Castle of Los Angeles. Maybe that was inappropriate, but that blurb meant a lot to me and I wanted to give Dennis something in return. Thanking reviewers isn't always appropriate, but if you have any sort of personal relationship with them, I think it's good form.

#5 - Follow guidelines. Again, this seems like a no-brainer...but I know it happens all the time. You know what? Your prose will NEVER be so brilliant that you don't have to follow the guidelines to a book, editor, publisher or agent you're submitting to. In fact, they have every right to just toss your sorry ass out when they see you've ignored their plainly stated submission rules. Loser.

#6 - Divas aren't cute. They're just irritating. Don't be one. Don't throw public tantrums when you don't get your way. 'Nuff said.

#7 - I don't care how boring your life is; or, use social networking properly. Y'know what? I really don't give a rat's ass what you had for breakfast, what your horoscope said, or how late your train was (unless you find some way to put a clever spin on any of the above). If you bore me with your 50 Twitter posts a day, I'm going to figure that it's a good chance your fiction will bore me as well.

#8 - You can't write everything. If you're a middle-aged female, don't assume you can write a story about a high-school football star without doing any research, because you can't. Wanna write a period piece? Then DO THE RESEARCH. I've read several stories recently in which authors wrote about subject matters they plainly knew nothing about, and even my own cursory knowledge of these subjects told me what I was reading was completely bogus. And at that point...I'm done, not just with that one story, but probably with the author's entire body of work. And I'll bet I'm not the only one.

#9 - Manage your desperation. Yes, I know you're worried about keeping interest going in your work, or (like me, and this one would be my mea culpa on this list) you need the income...but don't throw stuff out into the marketplace that you know on some instinctive level is crap, just in hopes of keeping your name out there. Sure, not every piece of work you sell can be gold...but all it takes is one reader to pick up that one crappy story you just threw out there, and that's one reader you may have lost forever. And I don't know about you, but I don't have enough readers to be able to casually throw them away.

10) Help other writers. Helping other writers is good. It not only gives you a sense of having done something worthwhile, but critiquing a friend's work can help you recognize flaws in your own writing. It happens to me all the time. I can truthfully say, in fact, that probably nothing in my life has helped me improve more than working with other writers on their material.

And now I'm off to continue packing for Brighton, where I will attend the Stoker Awards banquet and commingle with a lot of amazing writers who don't have to lie about being Stoker Award nominees.