Except for those that work for you. Well, except for one.
I’ve been doing this fiction writing thing for a little over ten years now. I’ve been to two writing conferences. The first was way back at the beginning of my writing odyssey. Dorothy Allison, who is most known for writing Bastard Out of Carolina, spoke during lunch the first day. Great talk and she’s the one that gave me the line about writers stealing people.
The other thing I took away from the conference was this. During one of the sessions a woman kept asking questions like, “I’ve heard you shouldn’t change voice in the middle of a chapter. That if you change voice, it should be a new chapter. What’s the rule?” To which the writer, whose name escapes me, kept saying, eventually with a sigh, “There are no rules except to write a good story. If you do that, nothing else matters.”
Which is why I bristle at things like this. A blogger posted her 20 favorite writing rules from Stephen King’s On Writing. A book I read a long time ago, even before I started writing myself. Back in the day when I wanted to read everything he wrote. But I won’t ever read it again. Or anything like it. Here are rules 10, 11 and 12 from that blog post:
10: “The first draft of a book – even a long one – should take no more than three months, the length of a season.”
11: “I stayed physically healthy and I stayed married.”
12: “Whether it’s a vignette of a single page or an epic trilogy like ‘The Lord of the Rings,’ the work is always accomplished one word at a time.”
Does anybody else see the problem with these three rules in combination? Anybody? Bueller?
OK. Here’s the draw back to blogging. It’s impossible to have a conversation like that. I’d love to hear from you before I answer my own question, but, hey there’s only so much time in the day and I need to get back to my story and write it … one word at a time. Sigh.
Stephen King’s rules work for … Stephen King. They don’t work for anybody else. They certainly don’t work for us poor shleps who have a day job because they haven’t come up with the formula he came up with all those years ago that lead to his ability to turn out book after book after book and make millions off each one of them. Because, let’s be serious, this is what Mr. King does. He follows a formula, particularly over the last twenty years or so. The same set of characters, the same basic dynamic, the same … well, just about everything. It’s easy to write a draft in three months when you keep writing the same thing over and over again.
And since he’s made his millions, he doesn’t have to work. In fact, I’m willing to bet it’s been about forty years since he actually had to work a day job to support his family and try to squeeze writing into the tiny window most of us have. It’s easy from his perch to spout his rules. But they don’t work for anybody who isn’t him. Or Dean Koontz. Or John Grisham. Or Nicholas Sparks. Or <fill in the blank with whichever author you love who has been able to make a living at it>.
Let’s go deeper. Virtually every novel King has published over the last 20 years, or more, has been a monstrosity. 150,000-200,000 words. And he suggests that the first draft of each of those novels — for him to qualify as a writer — had to be complete within three months. Think about this, people, that’s a NaNo, or more, each and every month for three straight months. And considering that during much of his career, he has published a novel every year and lately much more than that each year, he not only is writing the equivalent of a NaNo each month but also editing and re-writing the draft that he completed three months previously, and finalizing the draft he completed six months previously. And then doing interviews and promos and who knows else for the one he completed nine months ago and has now just published. And, in the midst of all of this, he continues to write short stories. Ummm, yeah, right.
And, he’s doing all of this … one word at a time.
And, he’s exercising so he can stay physically healthy.
And, apparently, doing what he can to keep his marriage healthy and whole.
There are no rules … except for those that work for you. Here’s what works for me. I can’t take the NaNo approach. It leads to, sorry for the image, but diarrhea writing. I simply can’t do that. I edit as I write. I think as I write. I think in the darkness and in the light. I think in the wee hours and late at night. I think while sitting with my family and while in meetings at work. I go back twenty pages and edit. I go back 100 pages and re-write. I flip this and switch that. I do all of this as I’m writing my “first draft.” For the most part, by the time I have finished my “first draft” I have also finished my final draft.
As a result, other than short stories of up to a couple thousand words, there is nothing I have written that has only taken three months. Bridgeport took a year. Then another year to completely re-write. Weed Therapy took two years. Northville took a year from start to finish. No, I wasn’t spending that entire year writing that particular story. I completed Deviation during that time. I wrote a number of short stories during that time. And what I also did was spend a lot of time thinking and noodling over the thing.
There are no rules … except for those that work for you. And, the basic and fundamental rule. Write a good story. And, the corollary to that … do it the way it works for you.