|Rejection: Embrace it Like a Wet Dog|
Elmore Leonard's list of 10 Rules of Writing went viral the day he left us for the great typewriter in the sky. And while that is an awesome list, probably the best ten rules ever written (sorry creator of great typewriter in the sky), I'm sure all the other great writers still living sat down at their Apple IIe's and pounded out their own ten, perhaps even eleven, rules.
Should I find myself headed towards the great typewriter in the sky (which really sounds more like hell now that I think about it), I can only hope that no one ever shares this list of my own ten rules of writing. The last thing I want is all my work ( a few blog posts, a raunchy comedy, a bathroom stall poem, a maybe a dusty novel or two) distilled down into a list of ten rules about writing.
So please, don't share this after I die. Deal?
Don Rearden's 10 Rules of Writing*
1. Don't try to find an agent before you've written your novel.
"Wait! These are supposed to be ten rules about writing!" you say. Correct. If you're trying to find an agent or asking about how to find an agent and you haven't written anything, then you aren't writing. So really, rule #1 should just say, if you're going to write, do that first. But first read the other rules, so as to not break any more rules. Really you shouldn't even be reading any of this rule business, you should be writing, but since you're obviously not doing that, keep looking for rules that might somehow make you a better writer.
2. Quit trying to find rules that will make you a better writer.
Our society is obsessed with a short cuts. Rules a writer make something something, not doesn't sense. Quit being lazy and just go write (following the rules, naturally).
Your aren't going to become a writer if you don't first struggle. I don't mean at writing. I mean life. No one wants to read a book written by a guy who learned all the rules of writing as a toddler, had a full ride at Stanford by junior high, a Pulitzer his freshman year of college, and then married the heiress to the Twinkie Corporation. Even if that guy writes a mean sentence, no one wants to hear about how agents and editors mob him every time he opens up a Word Doc. You need to struggle. Work a crappy job. Be poor. Go to jail. Drink. Go to war. Have ten kids. Drink. You know struggle. This won't make your writing any richer, but you'll have more street cred when you actually produce something.
4. Produce Something
People talk a mean game. They have an idea for a story. They had a dream that would make a cool movie. They really want to write ________. But they don't. They talk about it while the real writers are at home struggling. Again, not on their writing, but on their lives. Keep that straight.
5. Revise What You Produce
If you haven't followed rule #4, then go back and first produce something, and you'd better damn well be struggling at life while you do it. Then read over your work out loud, preferably to your cat or dog (if you don't have a cat or dog skip to Rule #6). Then read it again, and again. Then give it to a friend or reader who won't blow smoke up your ass. If you don't have any friends, congratulations! You have at least accomplished Rule #3! Pat yourself on the back. Fortunate for you, if you have a friend who will blow actual smoke up your ass, you might also ask them for a great deal of money so that you don't have to struggle in your writing career. Don't worry, this is okay, because if you can talk the friend into the smoke or money thing, then you're already on your way.
6. Own a Cat or Dog
Don't question this. Just do it. Famous writers have pets. No pets, no publishing deal. Plus, you'll need someone who will listen to the shit you wrote before Rule #5 and you'll need someone there when you hit Rule #3. Trust me. Cat. Dog. Or both, to cover your bases.
Take your first major piece of writing, say your first novel. Close that file. Open a new one. And rewrite the entire thing without looking at the old one. Why? Because I had to do that in grad school and it really sucked, nearly broke me (I struggled), but that struggle is what got me here today. So you should have to do this as well. Especially if you're the kind of person who reads long lists of rules about writing when you should actually be writing.
8. Revise what you Rewrote
See Rule #5 if you don't get this point. Better yet just go sit with Rule #6 on your lap and stare out your window.
Rewrite what you wrote. Again. Except this time I'm talking about that query to an agent. It's not agent time, yet, relax, You're a long way from that. Instead, find more readers. Seek out writers who are better than you. Make sure they are struggling. Then add to their burden. Ask them to read your manuscript. Correct it. Critique it. And maybe forward to their agent (after they have edited fixed the plot holes and grammatical atrocities).
10. Never Give Up
You've written your opus, and perhaps your wife, the Twinkie heiress, has lost her fortune and left you for someone who knows how to struggle and liked dogs. You can't find an agent. You can't find a publisher. All hope appears lost. You've followed all the rules. You're looking for more rules. Rules to write by. Rules to live by. Keep looking, friend, and keep writing. Never give up on the dream that some day you could die and a list you wrote might be shared around the world.
*Don't actually follow these rules. Except for maybe #1, 6, and 10.