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The Rules of Writing

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I was talking with some writer friends recently and after the usual topics of cake, booze and sex (hey, we ARE writers after all…) we started on the old chestnut, what are the rules of writing. More importantly, do we need to follow them?

Do I need to use third person for a crime novel? Should each scene I write involve some sort of conflict for my main character? Does setting matter? Is it OK to wear a plunging neckline to the book launch? I don’t necessarily have the answers to all of these – apart from the last one; to that I say, if you’ve got it, flaunt it, Baby – but I do have some handy rules of my own which I recommend you put into practice forthwith.


Rule The First:

Put your bum in your seat, switch on your laptop or open your notebook and WRITE. I don’t care what it is, I don’t care how good it is, just get it down.

Rule The Second:

Put it away for a while – at least two weeks, take it out and read it. Go have a stiff drink or strong coffee to get over how bad you think it is and then sit back down and make it better. Fix those typos, mistakes in chronological order, wrong character names, dead description, co-incidences and inconsistencies. Then put it away for another week or two.

Rule The Third.

Work on something else.

Repeat Rules The Second and Third until your novel is as good as you think you can make it.

Rule The Fourth

Let someone else read your book – or at least the first three chapters and ask them for a critique. I have a post coming up on Women Writers, Women’s Books about critiquing. Read through what your critiquer says and decide if you agree with their suggestions. Make the changes you think you should and repeat Rules the Second and Third one more time.

Rule the Fifth

It’s time to send your baby out into the world with its lunchbox packed and its trousers nicely creased. And what happens then is a whole new blog post.

Of course, I follow these rules religiously myself. What’s that? Am I crossing my fingers behind my back? Why, the very idea….
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Writer, photographer, creative fantasist.

17 thoughts on “The Rules of Writing

  1. Excellent advice, Nettie, and I stick religiously to these rules. The only trouble is I’m an atheist and the only one I’ll really go with is, number one. Sit down, type, type type until your fignertips are blunt. Then type some more.

    Every time I finish a piece, I promise myself I’ll put it away and forget about it for a week or three, but I’m usually back at it within 48 hours. Fortunately, I have an excellent editor (Maureen Vincent-Northam) who screams at me when she has to pick up the shrapnel.

  2. I didn’t need to read that. It’s exactly what I do. Always. It’s easy. That’s why I have completed so many books.
    *snorts tea down nose*

    You forgot, ‘If you get a good idea, whenever and wherever it is, you MUST get it down, even if it’s with eyeliner on toilet paper…’


    1. Me too. Written hundreds, honestlyI have. And your suggestion will be included in a future update to the Rules. I’ll credit you with it, obviously *crosses fingers behind her back. Again.*

  3. This is exactly what I needed to read today! I am finally starting to get back into writing creatively (rather than just for work) and have been struggling with where to start. This has helped. Not quite so daunted now 🙂 So thank you!

  4. ps Nettie has your blog always looked like this or have you redesigned it? It’s gorgeous — love the header photo and the layout… very restful, lovely.

    1. Hi Martha and thank you for your lovely comments. I have redesigned the blog recently, trying to make it less cluttered, and I am so pleased you like it. The photo is one of my own. I took it on holiday this year. We stayed in a lodge overlooking this very lake.

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