At the time of writing, I have published exactly three books: a photographic manual, a work of fiction, and a very ill-fated memoir*. Yay, go me. I am by no means an expert. Not in the slightest. I’m so green and wet behind the ears I’m ‘precious’. Yet, people ask me all the time “Hey, got any advice on writing a book?”, and I’m like, sure, ask the guy who has one novel out there to give advice. What the hell do I know, right?
My standard answer to this question is simply this: “Yes, sit on your ass and write”.
Funnily enough, it never seems to satisfy people. So, erm, because I’m still new at this and brevity is not quite my long suit, may I introduce to you Gerry’s 19 Laws of Writing(TM)—your mileage may vary.
- Make sure you have something to say, then say it. If you do not know what you want to say, put the pen down, figure it out, and then try again.
- Ignore word count. Don’t rush, don’t ramble. The story will take as long as it takes.
- When writing anything other than fantasy, make it as realistic as possible.
- When writing non-technical, make your characters as human as possible.
- Make sure your timelines tie up.
- Find one person, real or imaginary, metaphorically put them down in the writing room with you, and tell them the story, no one else. If you cannot tell the story to one person, you’re never going to be able to tell it to millions.
- The narrator should stay out of it. The third person is there to convey events, not opinions. Make sure the narrator is out of the way of the story.
- Be careful of first-person narration; it can run away with you—see point two.
- Don’t do second-person narration. Just don’t.
- ‘If you do not have time to read, you do not have time to write’.
- Writing is discipline: if you have time to watch TV, or to party with pals, but do not have time to write, you are better off in your day job.
- Read Stephen King’s “On Writing” before every project.
- Have Elmore Leonard’s “10 Rules of Writing” framed on your desk. Refer to it often.
- Never underestimate the value of a good rewrite. Or two. Or three. Or four.
- Even the bestselling authors have editors. Especially bestselling authors. No, you cannot self-edit. Invest in Grammarly or ProWritingAid or similar.
- Writing is a team effort. Publishing more so. You cannot do it all yourself. Ask for help.
- The finished, edited, polished manuscript is the easy bit. Congratulations, now the real work starts: cover design, layout design and… marketing!
- Publishing is a lot more expensive than you think. If you want to go broke, write a book. If you want to go homeless, write fiction.
- Lastly: rules may be made to be broken, but never, ever, start a book, a chapter, or a subchapter with ‘it’.
There you have it. I hope that helps. (Are you listening to yourself, Gerry?)
*That memoir is ill-fated? Why? Because of rule 20: Get it in writing. I did a job on goodwill and promises and got screwed out of nine months of my life.