Some Rules on Writing

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In 1947, author Robert A. Heinlein published “On the Writing of Speculative Fiction.” In it, he made clear his now-famous 5 rules of writing.
  1. You must write.
  2. You must finish what you write.
  3. You must refrain from rewriting, except to editorial order.
  4. You must put the work on the market.
  5. You must keep the work on the market until it is sold.
As my husband would say, these are all of them SIMPLE RULES but none are EASY. There’s a difference. In theory, anyone CAN do these things but that doesn’t mean they are easy to do well, consistently, and with passion. And that’s the kicker, isn’t it? These all require more than passion. Passion will kick-start a project but only perseverance and dedication can see you through a novel manuscript or the fifth re-write of your short story. So keep going.Keep writing, keep editing, and keep trying to sell your work!

Don’t Take it So Personally

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My writing group is publishing a short story collection and I’m excited to have one of my pieces in it. Unfortunately, not everyone else is. Something about the style of my post-zombie-apocalypse short story just struck a few of our beta readers badly. One even said she hated it. Hated it! It scared her off from reading the rest of the collection.
That, if I am being truthful, hurt a little bit. That was some serious language being used. But you know what? I like the piece. Others like the piece. One reader said she loved it and that the final lines gave her cold shivers. So I’m not alone in my loyalty to the piece.
Here’s the thing: people who liked it gave me great and productive notes that I took into account as I re-wrote and re-re-wrote the story BUT people who didn’t like it couldn’t seem to provide notes on how to improve it. They just hated it and gave me a grammatical line note somewhere and shrugged me off as a lost cause.
Remember: there’s a difference between someone being critical of your work and someone critiquing your work. One is helpful, the other is not. Listen to critiques. Let criticism pass you by.
Clearly, on my case, this was a matter of stylistic preference. My story is divisive among readers. That’s fine. I wasn’t looking to please everyone; I was telling a story. I made it the best I could with help from others but some people don’t and never will like it.
I can live with that.

No Writer is an Island

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“Be careful. You don’t want your work to be derivative.”

I’m not part of the camp that says there’s no such thing as an original idea (there must be millions out there crawling around!) but it’s hard to pretend that ideas don’t come from other books, movies, games, and comics that have already been published. If you ask me, there’s nothing shameful about picking and digging through existing works for inspiration.

Drawing inspiration, of course, is very different from “paying homage to” or “borrowing ideas” or “lifting characters from.” There’s a work that is derivative and then there is a work that is unoriginal. Derivative, I would argue, is nothing to be ashamed of when done well! Can’t we say that most modern and post-modern fantasy is derivative of J.R.R. Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings/Middle Earth? And does that immediately devalue every fantasy novel, story, or game created since 1937?

I was given the above warning when workshopping a fantasy novel. I’ve spent countless hours world building for this piece and working hard to subvert traditional fantasy genre expectations and create races unlike those I’d read about before. When I was warned I might be too “derivative” I came to a realization: maybe that’s not such a bad thing. Some of the best told stories aren’t original ideas anyway.

Shakespeare’s Hamlet might be the best example of a derivative work that stepped out and away from its origins and paved a new path through the craft of writing and creation of memorable characters.

In no way do I or any respectable writer condone plagiarism or the taking of other writers’ ideas. BUT don’t let the fear of being labeled “derivative” scare you away from the ideas that move you the most.