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More What You’d Call Guidelines…

Over at Making Light, James MacDonald explains How to Get Published.

Before I go any further, let me state for the record that MacDonald knows his stuff.  He contributes good writing advice at Making Light, Absolute Write, and elsewhere.

That said, I’m gonna argue with a few of his points now, ’cause what fun would it be if we all agreed with each other? :-)

To be a writer, you must write.  Absolutely, 100%, yes!  However, MacDonald goes on to give the oft-repeated advice, “Write every day.”  Good advice, but not an iron-clad rule.  I write five days a week, but generally don’t write on weekends.  I believe writing every day is a good goal, but ultimately, it’s important to find the schedule that works for you.  The important thing is that you’re writing.

On the day you reach THE END, put the book aside for six weeks.  Let me put it this way: I wrote, revised, and started submitting Goblin Quest [B&N | Mysterious Galaxy | Amazon] over the course of six weeks, and that seems to have worked out pretty well for me.  Distance can be a very good thing, and these days I usually try to do a short story or something else between drafts/books as a palate-cleanser.  But once again, writing is like the Matrix: some “rules” can be bent, while others can be broken.1

Now find a publisher.  This is exactly what I did when I finished Goblin Quest, actually.  It’s not the path I’d follow if I had to do it all over again today.  Publishers are slow to respond (2.5 years in one case), and they ask for exclusivity.  Personally, I would go directly to querying agents, and let them submit to the publishers.  Authors have sold books both ways, as you can see in that First Book Survey someone did earlier this year.

I remember being a new author trying to break in, and assuming that Advice = Law.  If a pro said I had to sell short stories before selling a novel, then by Asimov’s Sideburns, that was what I must do!

It messed me up more than once.  So while I think it’s incredibly important to listen to authors who have this sort of knowledge and experience, it’s also important to remember that none of us have the Gospel of Getting Published.  (And I don’t believe MacDonald is trying to preach Publishing Gospel, but I know how easy it is for new writers to take things as such.)

That said, MacDonald gives some good advice, and those working to break in could do much worse than to take a few minutes to read his post.

  1. With most rules, things generally turn out better if you make sure you understand the rule before you break it.

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.


Dec. 7th, 2010 06:09 pm (UTC)
I think there's something to be said for the intertia of writing. I know that for me, the longer I go without writing, the harder it is to get back into it. But I also know that, for close to a decade now, I've worked well with the five days/week plan.
Dec. 7th, 2010 06:55 pm (UTC)
Possibly a more useful formulation of "write every day" would be the way they* taught me a similar rule about photography: "Treat it like a job". Which means (to me, anyway), do it regularly, make yourself a schedule and keep to it, and be sure you're making progress.

Left unsaid, but just as important, is the flip side of a job--you want to leave yourself time for the rest of your life, you should consider taking weekends off and going on vacations, and "job" does not necessarily have to mean "full-time job".

*details on "they" available on request. I've taken some awesome photo workshops, and what minimal success I've had professionally as a photographer I lay at their feet. (The "minimal" part of my success? That's all me, baby. ;) )
Dec. 7th, 2010 07:54 pm (UTC)
See, for me, when I try to treat writing like a job I feel too pressured and restricted by a schedule. I really can't force myself to write on a set schedule. What I produce, when I can ever get the words to come, ends up being terrible.

...This is one reason why I'll never be a full-time writer. I would go crazy.
Dec. 7th, 2010 07:51 pm (UTC)
I can agree with that. The more I write, the more I want to write (usually). And the longer I go without writing, the harder it is to get back into the swing of things.

But there's no reason there can't exist people who write best in a month-long frenzy of words followed by a couple months of absolutely nothing. It just so happens that most writers don't work that way.

I just think it's silly for people to insist that there are a few basic rules of writing that every writer must obey. The most that I think can be said is that there are a few writing methods that seem to work well for a lot of people.


Jim C. Hines


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