Conducted March’s Lifewriting story analysis yesterday. Sorry that I forgot to promote it until pretty much yesterday morning, but life has been a real crush lately.
I no longer take personal clients (too busy!) but whenever I did, I had to go over the same “Secret Six” basic rules, a combination of Robert Heinlein, Ray Bradbury, and Octavia Butler:
- Write a sentence a day. This is your MINIMUM. It keeps the creative pipes open. It also helps you identify your “pretender voices”, the ways you sabotage and lie to yourself. There is NEVER a logical reason not to write a single sentence. There just…isn’t.
- Write 1-4 stories a month. The most common excuse is that “My ideas come out at novel length”. No such thing. You just haven’t focused. Core ideas don’t have length. EXPRESSIONS of ideas have length. Another excuse: “I’m working on a novel.” Fine. Work on that novel, and good for you! And…write 1-4 stories a month. The payoff is stupendous if you can get past your inner voices. “How about a segment of a longer work?” Nope. A short story contains everything a longer piece does, but numerous things that the same word count extracted from that longer piece does not. Show me a short story, and I can see almost everything you are as writer: plot, character, poetics, thematics, choreography…everything. All there in miniature form. Plus, there is FAR less ego investment in a short piece. If it sucks, you’re on to something else next week or month. It is tragic to see someone spend YEARS on a project just for it to collapse because they didn’t have their basic chops together.
- Finish and submit. You must send your stories to market. It isn’t up to you to decide when they are ready for publication. Let professional editors determine that. Plus, this is half of your marketing research, as well as toughening yourself up against fear of rejection. “A real writer papers her office with rejection slips” is a common and superlative piece of advice Octavia followed during the dark days before she broke in. Artists tend to HATE marketing. It feels like prostitution. They hate sales. It feels dishonest. You have to get over this, make your piece with it, find the part of yourself that can be a straight-up business adult. Or…your creative life will be painful as hell.
- DON’T rewrite except to editorial request. Newbies will re-write a favorite story endlessly, neglecting the new work. Get this through your head: individual stories aren’t important. The PROCESS you used to create that story is DAMNED important. Focus on the process, perfecting it by creating dozens of stories. But…if you send out a story, and an editor sends you a note saying: “if you changed X, we’d like to see it again…” DO IT. Even if they don’t buy, you are learning conceptual flexibility as well as starting a dialogue with the greatest writing ally you can have: a professional editor who admires your craft. Someone willing to risk their reputation and job on YOU. Repeat after me: “the sincerest form of complement is a check that clears the bank.”
- Read 10X what you write. Two major sins addressed at the same time. The first is getting so busy you “don’t have time to read”. This is like saying you are so busy body-building you don’t have time to eat. So busy driving you don’t have time to stop for gas. You are shooting your career in the head. The other sin is the “I don’t want to imitate other people” thing. What a crock. ALMOST EVERYTHING YOU HAVE EVER LEARNED, YOU LEARNED BY IMITATING SOMEONE ELSE. Walking, talking, riding a bicycle…everything. And if you imitate enough other people, you will find your own voice, which is basically just writing the way you talk. Takes an average of a million words (maybe). Just do it. Read and Write. Doctor’s orders.
- Repeat 100X. Yep. Don’t even BEGIN to think about quitting until you’ve reached story #100. So far, NO ONE who has followed this plan has made it past #27 before they start selling. Personally, when I got on this plan (well, an earlier version of it) I made it to #23 before I made my first sale. Got 1/5 of a cent a word for it. Framed that damned check and never cashed it.
There’s no such thing as “a little bit pregnant” folks. Once a stranger pays you for your work, you are in a different world. You’ve stepped across the line. To paraphrase an old joke, now we know what you are…the rest is haggling.
Write the story that changes the world!