Writing 101 – Three Rules for Success

Many of my writer friends who are starting out sometimes ask if I have any rules they should  follow.  Now, I’m not one who believes there’s a magic bullet to get your work published or attain literary success. In fact, when I hear someone say there is only one way to write I immediately put that person on my “DO NOT LISTEN TO” list.

But there are three basic rules I personally try to follow with every story I write. Your mileage may vary. Over time you will likely develop your own plan and it will work for you. But this is what I try to keep in mind when I write, and I thought I would share it with you today.

1.)  TELL A GOOD STORY. This should be self-explanatory. Sadly, for many new writers, and not a few older ones who should know better, this is a perpetual stumbling block.  Let’s say you have two story ideas.  One is completely mapped out.  It’s about puppies romping through flowerbeds in the summer sunshine.  The other you’re not quite sure about.  It’s hazy, somewhat disturbing, and probably controversial.

You write the second story.  I’m not saying your puppies-in-the-flowerbed story won’t be good.  But the second story will often be the better story.  How do we know this?  Well, that brings us to our second rule:

2.)  TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS. Put more simply, write what you feel and don’t be afraid to take chances.  Herman Melville knew exactly what he was doing when he wrote Moby-Dick.  He knew it would challenge readers. (There are people today who still think that novel is about whales.)  Mark Twain knew what he was doing when he wrote the line “Okay, I’ll go to hell, then,” when Huck Finn decided not to turn Jim in as a runaway slave.

So did Henry Miller, Upton Sinclair and Eugene O’Neill.  But since we often talk about genre fiction here the same rule applies.  Joanna Russ, Samuel R. Delany, Harlan Ellison and Daniel Keyes all understood this basic concept, along with a ton of other successful writers.   Appropriately, SF is perfectly suited for pushing the envelope because it’s a genre composed primarily of ideas. But that aspect is not limited only to science fiction. It’s appropriate for all genres.

But you can only attain success if you arm yourself with my last rule:

3. ) PERSEVERE. I have written about this before. You must have the courage to fail if you want to be successful. Remember, the unsold story is the unread story. I know, sometimes it’s like banging your head against a brick wall. Trust me, I’ve been there. But don’t give up. There are a LOT of writers out there who get published, and I’m willing to bet some of them have less talent than you.  In fact I know they do because I’ve read some of their work.

You know why they keep getting published? Because they don’t give up.  They keep submitting their story and working at their craft until they find a market that will accept them.  You should, too.

You can do it. I did. So have thousands of other writers. Good luck!

4 Replies to “Writing 101 – Three Rules for Success”

  1. Hi, thanks for your encouraging post! I especially enjoyed your illustration of the puppy story v the ‘unknown’ idea. I was worried you were going to recommend plumping for the puppies.

    I’m finding that perhaps the most enjoyable part of writing a book is watching it live its own life!

    Thanks again.

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