Sunday, June 6, 2010

Rules

Thanks for the poll answers, guys! I'll post something analyzing the results in a little while, and by all means keep voting until then.

But here's something that's been on my mind lately.

Rules.

I bet you think I'm going to jump around and be like "FUCK THE RULES!" but my opinion on this is actually slightly--slightly--more complicated.

I think there are two kinds of rules in this business that you typically hear--those about writing and those about publishing. The latter usually come from agents. Don't send attachments with your query letter. Don't forget your page numbers. Don't query two agents at the agency at the same time. Format your manuscript in this precise way. Although these rules sometimes seem like unnecessary hoops to jump through, they actually do have, and fulfill, their purpose. These are the ones that you should follow (though there is a time and a place to break them. More on that later.)

The other type of rules, the ones you probably get more and more often, are the ones from writers.

Write every day. Write in Courier. No, Times New Roman. No, Courier. Use MS word count. No, use 250 x number of pages for word count. Don't write a book below 40,000 or over 80,000 words. Set your manuscript aside for three months before you start revising. If you write too fast, your book won't be good. If you write too slow, you'll never finish a book. Don't use adverbs. Ever. Don't use anything other than 'said' for dialogue tags. It's impossible to write with other people in the room. Don't watch TV while you write--are you kidding? Write by hand. Write on a typewriter. Write on an Alphasmart. Write on a laptop. Read all the classics. Read everything in your genre. Read outside of your genre. Write high concept. Write whatever the fuck you want. Write for an existing market. Try to expand the boundaries of the existing market. Write for the lowest common denominator. Write for your mom. Write for yourself. Write for the MFAs. Get a day job. Spend your advance on publicity. Don't expect to earn out. Use a pen name. Write in the mornings.

And here, guys, is where it gets to be bullshit.

The only right way to write is however the fuck you get it done. People decide something works for them, or they read what Stephen King does that works for them, and decide that that's the only 'real' way to write.

I'm going to go over how I write, now, too, but let's be very clear before I do--I am not advocating my method for everyone. For anyone. I'm doing this so you can see how fucked up and crazy my writing method is, so you can see how possible it is to get shit written without following the Butt-In-Chair-Allow-Yourself-To-Write-Crap methods you'll see so often quoted. If that's what works for you, fantastic. But it's not the only way, at all.

--I do not even come close to writing every day. About 80% of days, I'd estimate, I don't write at all. I spend some of these days working on edits or blogging or plotting a new idea, but most of them I spend playing video games or going to school or sleeping or watching Queer as Folk or cooking with the shiksa. Not writing. Am I thinking about it? Of course. But it's not something I do every day.

--When I do write, really write, new words on new pages, I call that initial part "fast-drafting." That's when I get a first draft down as fast as I possibly can. This isn't (just) for the bragging rights; it makes sure the idea stays fresh in my head and I don't lose interest along the way, as I'm apt to do if I stretch the story out. I've tried writing over longer periods of time, when I'm not feeling the story as much. I rarely finish, and when I do, the stories are never as good as the fast-drafted ones.

Fast-drafting so far has taken me 5 (The Animals Were Gone, Fishboy), 7 (Break) and 8 (Invincible Summer) days. I was in school during both Break and Animals, and studying for midterms during Animals as well, so I do this despite being busy. Which means I do nothing else during any moment of free time but write. Nothing. Nada. I park on the couch like a fatass and I write. Eight hours a day, nine hours a day, whatever it takes.

I write my first draft in single spaced, 10 pt font. I am not kidding. This is actually something I recommend. Don't do 10 pt if it's going to kill your eyes. Do triple-spaced 30 pt Comic Sans for all I care. Do anything to keep your manuscript from looking like a real manuscript. Make it something you can fuck up. Double spaced 12 pt looks way too fucking intimidating for a first draft, if you ask me.

I flip to the internet every 70-100 words and screw around. Because that's how I roll. It still gets done.

I watch TV while I write, or I chat with my roommate or my boyfriend, if they're around.

--My fast drafts come out very short. BREAK was 27,000 words. INVINCIBLE SUMMER was 23,000 words. The one I just finished was 25,000. This comes with angst, every single time, that the book isn't going to be long enough.

--I start editing that draft immediately, as in an hour after I finish the first draft. I do not let it sit. If I sit, I'm going to hate the story. I'll start hating it halfway through the second draft anyway, so I might as well get the thing over with. (This is where I am right now. Someone stop me before I set the thing on fire.)

--After the second draft, I've lived and breathed this story for about two weeks, breaks, cereal standing up, sleeping four hours a night kind of living, and I don't want to think about it ever again. Off it goes to Suzie and betas.

--We work from there.


This shit. It is not typical. But it's how I work, and it's what works for me.

You will hear a lot of contradictory advice about how to be a "real writer." But the only ticket to being a real writer is to write. I know you've heard that a million times, but let it give you some freedom this time. You're released. You write words, how you want them, when you want them. You don't have to prove shit to anyone.

Do whatever you do to get it done, and smile and nod when people tell you how their way is closer to the "real thing."

37 comments:

Josin L. McQuein said...

Ha! I like to use a small (but not 10pt, what are you friggin' kidding me???) font like TNR while drafting so I can put it into "official" Courier 12 pt later and watch the page count explode.

Yes. I am a dork.

I also like to write the query letter first because the concept is cleaner without the subplots at that point and I'm not tempted to list every single character who shows up on the page including the dog of the guy who brought pizza last Friday.

I started off "learning" how to write for the screen, and that's how I tend to write novels, too. I draft out conversations with minimal action breaks, then go back and put the conversations in a place and make the speakers do something. Most people give me weird looks for that, but it works for me, and since most people like the dialogue, I'd say it works period. I've got entire drafts that are nothing but 20-30K worth of dialogue with maybe 1K worth of action. Settings are sluglines. That's it.

I enjoy the error of my writing ways.

:-P

russetpomme said...

Suzie and the Betas is a band I totally want to see play live.

hannah said...

Your process actually sounds quite a bit like mine. I like watching the page count jump, too, and I oftentimes write the query letters first (I did for THE ANIMALS WERE GONE, at least.) And my first drafts are VERY dialogue heavy as well. Though, so are my books, so there you go.

Brittany Landgrebe said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Brittany Landgrebe said...

Thank you.

I mean it.

I admit, I worried about seeming like a "real writer." I read Stephen King's On Writing. Tried to emulate him. Didn't edit as I went along like I wanted to. Made a specific time each day to write, then fretted when no words came. Every time a passive word or verb came up, I paused.

Thanks for reminding me that how I write is how I write, and that there is no formula to it.

Now. I'm gonna go play on my new Wii, and if I get a good idea for my current WIP, I'll write.

Thank you.

^_^

hannah said...

Russ--you would play bass.

Jamie B said...

I'm much closer to writing like you than any of the other "rules". Months of dabbling and abandoning projects to finally get an idea that I give 20k to in a few days time.

Diana Estigarribia said...

Thank for this post. After attempting my first novel last year as part of a WriMo, I learned the experience of fast-drafting. I'm all for it! But I'm for anything that frees writers from the straitjacket of "do this, but don't do that" rules. Phooey on rules. Whatever gets it done for a writer is what a writer must do.

Michelle said...

Gotta tell ya, this is freeing. I totally find that if I don't write a first draft fast I lose all momentum. I write short plays in two or three days so I don't know why I felt like the rules dictated a novel must be drafted over months. I'm also a dialogue junkie, and hey, people talk fast.

Sage said...

Yep, I see the "rules" passed around a lot, and I see people share experiences and other people take those experiences as rules (or the opposite--as the author didn't know what the rules were and were, therefore, wrong).

The "Rules," which I prefer to think of as guidelines, are good in some way for beginners, I think. Why do people repeat "Butt in Chair" so much? Well, because so many would-be writers don't actually take the time to sit down and finish the book. Why are there so many suggestions about dialogue tags and adverbs? Because we are actually taught the opposite in school, and most beginner writers think that "showing" means adding more adjectives and adverbs and that "said is dead." Why tell us to write in TNR/CN 12 pt? Because that's what submissions are supposed to be in, and it's just easier to make it a rule.

Of course, sometimes people just spout their "rules" because they assume what works for them *has to* work for everyone else. But, as you've said here, everyone works differently. And I think sharing experiences might help someone who is stuck and hasn't figured out what they need. :)

Corinne said...

Yeah. This post? It's awesome.

I actually complained about this to my writer buds a while ago - all those rules of "write every day!" "you can't write if you don't read!" and "ignore all distractions" just make me want to scream. If you write a book, no matter how you do it, you're a writer. That's all there is to it.

I'm similarly disorganised. My first novel took eight months to write. My second took ten days. My third--well, it's not done yet, but will have taken about a month and a half, with a two-month break in the middle. It's wonderful to see writers just do whatever works for them--all those people who manage to work on tight schedules are amazing for being able to do so, but they kind of creep me out. How the hell does one survive without regularly marathoning TV series and slacking off?

Carolin Seidenkranz said...

Seriously love this post. It's so true. It's not possible to stuff individuals into one neat box, much less writers! *g*

Jess said...

This is so great! When the light at the end of the tunnel finally appeared for the novel I'm currently revising, I became a writing fiend. But this guy I work with who fancies himself an "experienced" writer would ask me every day how many words I had written the night before. If it had been a good day, I'd have gotten out 1,000. ON A GOOD DAY. Some days I didn't write at all. He'd get this hoity-toity look and say, "I wrote 3,000 before breakfast this morning." There is nothing in the world more demoralizing than a jerk who thinks he's better than you because he writes faster. So THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU for this GREAT reminder that we should write the way that works for us and not pay anyone else's "rules" any attention. You are my hero.

Lindsay (a.k.a Isabella) said...

My method is a bit similar. I write single spaced and sit for hours writing. I figure I can format it after.
I write my first drafts quick. I wrote my first draft of my current MS over a month and started to edit straight away. I can't stand to let it sit either. :)

Nicole MacDonald said...

I write best when i give myself a length of time. I set the alarm for an hour and go for it, then I do something else for an hour. works well for me :)

Remilda Graystone said...

Hell yeah! I totally agree with you. I'll have to try fast-drafting though, sounds cool. I have my way of writing as well that's different from some of the other rules out there, and one of the biggest things I do is use whatever font I want when I'm writing and editing. It works for me, so why not?

Thank you for writing this post!

hannah said...

I'm so glad this was helpful for everyone!

Sandy Shin said...

Lovely post.

I haven't tried fast-drafting yet (the closest I've ever gotten is NaNoWriMo, wherein I wrote nearly 20k in one day -- all of which terrible), but your process sounds amazing. Crazy, but amazing. There are so many "rules" to writing. A new writer (aka me) tries to follow all of them, but it's impossible. So now, I'll heed your advice and just do whatever works for me.

Thank you! :)

Cheyanne said...

I play way too many video games too.

Bookewyrme said...

Great post! I often get that niggling "I'm not doing it 'right' so I must not be a real writer, what am I thinking pretending to be?" doubt. Thanks for the reminder that the rules are meant to be broken! ^_^

~Lia

Julie said...

"Butt in Chair" will now be the next AMERICAN IDOL freak song. Like "Pants on The Ground"

So we can all blame Hannah when it starts playing over and over again on the radio.

Seriously great post AND I'm with you on saying "fuck the rules"

I see so many people joining these 1000 words a day clubs, which is a great to meet other writers and stay motivated. But this isn't a diet plan. And yes, writing is HARD work but it shouldn't feel hard to those that truly love it.

If you have to force the words on the page ALL the time (we all have to sometimes) then maybe its time to try something different.

That's just my opinion, but I compare it to me, right now, watching my five year-old daughter climb the monkey bars.

She's sweating and the skin on her hands is starting to rip open and I know her arms have to be sooo tired and yet she keeps going.

To me its freakin hard work and I'm happy sitting my lazy ass on the bench, but to her its not work. Its play with reward.

That's writing to me.

Claudie said...

I am so glad to learn your first drafts are so short. Mine aren't quite -that- short, but they always get BIGGER, which had me worried.

For the most part, I think those 'rules' can be useful to beginning writers. Two years ago (that's when you guess I'm still new to all of this), I had no idea how I should go about writing if I wanted to get consistently better. I picked up a few of those 'rules', tried them, gave up on what didn't worked and kept what did around.

There are a million (if not more) ways to go about writing. The rules are only useful in so far as they can help one find -his- way.

Also, I agree with Julie above. Writing is playtime. :)

in which a girl reads said...

Very awesome post.

And I breathed a huge sigh of relief at not-writing 80% of days and writing 20k-something first drafts. Cause I do that, haha :)

Thank you for writing this :D

HWPetty said...

I actually tell people *NOT* to write like I do, because it's manic and all over the place, and there is no one in this world who is more surprised to see a finished product come out of the process than I am.

I think you just have to find what works for you and keep doing it until something else starts working better for you.

I say this as a writer who has never read a writing advice book.

Well... Bird by Bird, but that's more about life than writing. I couldn't make it through Stephen King's book. I know... TEH BLASPHEMY, I HAZ IT.

Tura Lura said...

I needed that. Thanks.

I write weird, too. I'm currently working on a novel I started more than 3 years ago. I'd written 45 pages and just stopped. About a month and a half ago, I figured out why. The pacing was all off - the romance developed too quickly and everything else moved at a snail's pace.

Ugh. Scrapped it and am beginning a re-write. I have almost the whole thing outlined (in my head), and about a chapter hand-written. I've typed a grand total of four paragraphs into the computer. At some point, I'll likely switch to writing on the computer. But not yet. It's not ready for that yet. ^_^

maine character said...

Write in Courier. No, Times New Roman. No, Courier.

If you laughed at that, you’re a writer.

The only right way to write is however the fuck you get it done.

Exactly. In fact, this should be the title of a how-to write book. Or Suzie and the Betas' first album.

Sarah said...

You are fucking awesome.

'Nough said.

Vee said...

You're so fucking right I initially typed "write" there and had to go back and change it. But I suppose you could be write, too.

I am a BIC-er. But I am also a screw around on the internet-er. I've always felt bad about that, haha like I'm wasting time or something. But I can't help it. The internet is SO good. I'm also a no freaking way I'm waiting a month to revise this goddamn thing person.

Robby said...

You rock.

hannah said...

Vee--the internet is AWESOME.

Aleeza said...

This is like, what, THE BESTEST POST EVER!?!!?!? Honestly, Hannah, ILY SO MUCH MORE FOR THIS!

hannah said...

:D I love all you guys. Thanks for reading.

Corinne O'Flynn said...

Finally. Can you hear me sigh?

As much as I think writers know that we all have to find our path, you're right about the rules. There are so many of them and all of them make me feel like I am doing it wrong - even when I see that I am actually doing it, so it can't be wrong, right?

Alainn said...

I love your posts about writing, hannah. They ALWAYS gets me excited and actually working.

Also, I call drums in Suzie and the Betas- not the original drummer that actually started in the band but the one that joined just as the band starts to get famous and gets all the credit. ;)

hannah said...

Fabulous, A. You're also the one who has a wall devoted to all our album covers from all time. ;)

Nadine said...

You're my favorite blog. Ever. Cause you tell it exactly how it is and you keep it real.

And thank you for sharing that you don't write every single day. I've heard so many people tell me that I need to do that and I just can't. I have to go in waves.

ALT said...

"FUCK THE RULES," is Suzie and the Betas' sophomore album, featuring Hannah Moskowitz on vocals/hair, Russ on Bass, Alainn on drums, and ALT on trumpet and highland bagpipes.

The release date for this album has been pushed back, due to too many of its members dicking around on the internet all day.