Anyone who has been a long time follower of the blog knows that we don’t believe that there is any one “right” way to write. Everyone’s process is different and, if you’re like me, that process changes from project to project. So, when I came across this post by best selling author John Grisham, I found myself staring at it and shaking my head. Then I laughed and then I got angry. Why? Because he writes about what works for him in such absolute terms that there will be someone who believes it is the only way to be a successful writer.
1. Do — Write A Page Every Day
Now, I have issues with this on so many levels it isn’t funny. First, he says “every day” and yet, if you do the math, he only advocates writing five days a week. I guess if you’re a famous author like Grisham, you don’t feel the need to write on a daily basis. Of course, if all you are doing is a single page a day, you also are working at least one job to help pay your bills. That means most of your writing time will be on weekends. Are you supposed to forget about that?
Then there’s the whole, “Do that for two years and you’ll have a novel that’s long enough.” Long enough for what? Isn’t what he’s saying putting more emphasis on word count than on content? Seems that way to me.
Now, if all he’d said is that by setting a daily goal and working to meet that goal helps you become a better writer, I’d have no issue. But geez, he has this twisted around.
2. Don’t — Write The First Scene Until You Know The Last
Now, if you are a plotter, this is excellent advice. However, what about all those pantsers out there? You know who you are. You’re the writers who sit down and start writing. The book or story comes flowing out to you without warning. If you’re good at it, you know to get the story down and then to go back and clean it up, making sure you haven’t let Scott having off the edge of the cliff back in chapter 2, never to be heard about again.
By Grisham’s own words, he thinks the only way to write is with an outline. Nope, sorry, but he’s wrong. People write as they write and, as I said earlier, there is no one right way to do it.
3. Do — Write Your One Page Each Day At The Same Place And Time
Pardon me while I laugh a bit hysterically. It really must be nice to believe you are the font of all wisdom when it comes to writing. I pity him because he assumes we have the same benefits of being able to write when and where we want, without the demands of work or family or repairmen making noise, etc. Instead of angsting over whether or not you get to write at exactly the same time and place each day, just write. Do it when and where you can. The goal is to get the words down. It’s not to do it in a certain place and time.
4. Don’t — Write A Prologue
Again, another concrete statement that allows for no deviation. I am not a fan of prologues. However, I recognize there are times and places for them. There are also certain genres and sub-genres where the reader expects them.
5. Do — Use Quotation Marks With Dialogue
Wait! What? There’s a “rule” I actually agree with him on? This once, Grisham and I are on the same page. Please, please, please, use quotation marks with your dialogue.
6. Don’t — Keep A Thesaurus Within Reaching Distance
In a way he’s right, especially when he talks about how some beginning writers try to use fancy words when a simple one will suffice. However, there are times when you need that thesaurus. When you see yourself using the same word over and over again, especially in a short space on the page, you need to find alternatives. That is where a thesaurus can come in handy. The caveat? Make sure you are suing the new word properly — which means also having a dictionary nearby.
7. Do — Read Each Sentence At Least Three Times In Search Of Words To Cut
No, read each sentence as often as you need to in order to do reasonable edits. If you read something too many times, especially if only to find words to cut, you can wind up cutting the life out of the story. Ask Sarah. She used to yell at me — and threaten dire things — because I did something like this. So find what works for you — and use your beta readers or editors to help with this.
8. Don’t — Introduce 20 Characters In The First Chapter
Oops, that’s two things I agree with him on. If your reader needs a score card before finishing the first chapter, you’ve introduced too many characters. The first chapter or two are where you set up the story. You don’t need every character to make an appearance in the first few pages.
So, here are the rules from Amanda.
2. Write on a regular schedule, one that best fits your needs.
3. Write when and where works best for you.