Chuck Wendig’s personal writing rules

Last week I finished reading Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig. I knew of Wendig’s work after coming across his blog earlier this year, but this is the first of his novels I’ve read. I’d actually gone into the bookshop to look for a copy of Sandman Slim by Richard Kadrey, which they didn’t have, spotted Blackbirds on the shelf and decided it was about time to give it a shot (and not knowing what I’ll go home with is one reason why I still prefer physical bookshops when given the choice).

What did I think? Well I’m not much of one to review books, but I will say it was very enjoyable. It’s a fast-based pulpy affair about a young woman, a drifter, who can foresee when people will die. Considering I was looking for the acclaimed Sandman Slim (I ended up buying it through the iBookstore) which is also an urban fantasy with pulp crime sensibilities, then this was a more than satisfactory purchase.

If you like your urban fantasy fast-paced with pulp stylings then I recommend Blackbirds. (And Sandman Slim if you’ve yet to read that.) I’ll certainly be buying the sequel.

But Blackbirds isn’t the main reason I started writing this post. I actually wanted to recommend a link for writers. As I said, I first knew of Wendig through his blog, and his blog is chock full of advice for writers. Here are 25 of his personal rules for writing. You might not agree with all of them, I don’t, but that’s where the word “personal” comes in. However, I suspect you will find at least one nugget of gold relevant to you.

5. Aim Big, Write Small
Writers need goals. I don’t mean one goal. I mean a nearly endless and evolving series of goals — you don’t just say, “I’m going to write a novel.” Because, duh. That’s bare minimum shit. You want to have a career planned out. This isn’t a short game. It’s a long con. Look as far down the line as you can — to retirement, to cremation, to the time when nano-bots resurrect you to write one more bestselling holo-vid. That way, you can always course correct to try to move yourself further toward those goals. But — but! — whereas your career is a long-con, each story really is the short game. You want to keep your head in that story. You want to treat it like it’s everything, like everything hangs on this one project. (In part because it may.) To put it differently, have the larger path plotted out — but focus on each step upon that path as if it is your last.

25 Of My Personal Rules For Writing And Telling Stories
Blackbirds on Amazon
Sandman Slim on Amazon

Writing advice you’d do well to follow

When writing anything, especially fiction, I find it very difficult to remember my first draft is supposed to be crap. Unless you’re a genius, or you get lucky, then first drafts are never as good as you hope. This can stop you completing your work in one of two ways.

1. You never finish the first draft because you keep going over the beginning, trying to make it awesome now, instead of later.

and 2. You finish the first draft, but it’s so bad you lose the confidence to continue, to do what 99% of all your favourite writers have done with their work. Rewrite.

This weekend, via Graham Linehan on twitter (@Glinner), I came across two of the best examples of writing advice when it comes to first drafts. The first is from an interview with scriptwriter Jane Goldman (Kick-Ass, The Woman in Black, X-Men: First Class):

Don’t re-write as you go

This is absolutely fatal and such a massive waste of time. Part of that means not going back and re-reading what you’ve written. If you re-read you can find you’ve spent three days on the same 10 pages when you could have been racing through to the finish. You’re less likely to abandon a whole project if you’ve finished a whole draft, but you may well if you’ve spent three weeks polishing 30 pages over and over.

Don’t be afraid of a rubbish first draft

There is a great book on writing [Anne Lamott, Bird By Bird: Some Instructions On Writing And Life] with a chapter called, ‘Sh*tty First Drafts’. It’s good advice. Don’t torture yourself – allow your first draft to be cr*p and just focus on getting to the end. Then go back to improve it.

 

The whole piece is well-worth a read whether you write scripts or prose. But also, look, the mentioned chapter from Bird By Bird is online. Here’s a section of Shitty First Drafts:

 

For me and most of the other writers I know, writing is not rapturous. In fact, the only way I can get anything written at all is to write really, really shitty first drafts.

The first draft is the child’s draft, where you let it all pour out and then let it romp all over the place, knowing that no one is going to see it and that you can shape it later. You just let this childlike part of you channel whatever voices and visions come through and onto the page. If one of the char­acters wants to say, “Well, so what, Mr. Poopy Pants?,” you let her. No one is going to see it. If the kid wants to get into really sentimental, weepy, emotional territory, you let him. Just get it all down on paper, because there may be something great in those six crazy pages that you would never have gotten to by more rational, grown-up means. There may be something in the very last line of the very last paragraph on page six that you just love, that is so beautiful or wild that you now know what you’re supposed to be writing about, more or less, or in what direction you might go–but there was no way to get to this without first getting through the first five and a half pages.

 

Again, you should read the whole chapter.

One final addition comes from Graham Linehan himself, and it is something I hadn’t considered before, but now I hope to remember each time I get intimidated by that shitty first draft: