In one of the…let’s see, three, four, carry the one…six bazillion Facebook threads or updates I post, or the ones I visit, the topic of my personal writing “rules” came up. I was reminded of an “Ask Dayton” question I answered last year that touched on this very thing. On that occasion, I was asked about my “10 Commandments” of writing. I was also asked about my thoughts about such rules for existing in and moving through a fandom community, but the bulk of my long, bloated, meandering answer to the question was focused on the writing “rules” I was dreaming up.
After the more recent Facebook conversation, I dug up that post from last year, and tweaked the “Commandments” I had devised back then. For this go-around, I’ve removed the parts about “fandom” rules, because now I’m thinking they deserve their own post, too. We’ll see about that.
(NOTE: I thought about cleaning up the language a bit, since this was originally written for my curmudgeonly “Ask Dayton” persona, but I decided to leave it as is. You’ve been warned.)
So, without further ado, let’s revisit “Dayton’s 10 Commandments of Writing.”
I. Thou Shalt Write.
You’d think this first one’s pretty self-explanatory, and yet you’ll be astounded by the number of people who talk about writing “one of these days” or “when they get around to it.” Yeah, well, I wanted to catch a touchdown pass from Joe Montana and ask Farrah Fawcett to be my date for my senior prom. I fucked around too long and look what happened? Time, that cocksucker, robbed me of my opportunity. Don’t be like me. Sit your ass down in that fucking chair and start slinging those words. Writing is about getting shit out of your head and into a somewhat amorphous blob that’s your raw material for shaping, polishing, and trimming away the excess fat. So, get on with the clickety-clackety thing, already.
II. Thou Shalt Finish What Thou Start.
How many half-completed novels have you seen published? It’s not totally unheard of, but you usually have to have thirty or forty other books out there, be so famous that people use your name in casual conversation, and be dead so that your family or agent can take advantage of the half-scribbled shit they find in your attic. Otherwise? Nobody’s going to publish a story you can’t finish, and nobody’s going to hire you to write for them if you can’t go the whole nine yards. Keep writing, and don’t stop until you hit “The End.”
III. Thou Shalt Take Thy Writing Seriously.
If you want to be a writer, you have to act like it. Yes, that means writing, but it also means giving the writing the attention it deserves. Always. Your writing needs the same weight and importance as any other job, and anything else going on in your life that demands your focus and your best effort. If you can’t do that, you can’t expect your family and friends to respect your needs for time and space to work, and you certainly can’t expect an editor or publisher to give the first damn about whatever you finally manage to turn out. If you want to be a writer, you have to *be* a damned writer.
IV. Thou Shalt Not Take Thyself So Seriously.
We get it. You’re a writer. Maybe you’re a published writer, or still hunting that first pro publication or first big book contract. Whatever your level, check your ego, and lighten the fuck up. Don’t become that unapproachable douche nozzle who’s suddenly better or more accomplished or “special” than the people around you. Don’t let any success you manage to enjoy change who you are to the people who were in your corner while you were working to achieve that goal.
V. Thou Shalt Hit Thy Deadlines.
This obviously applies to those working on a contract or as part of some collaboration with actual due dates and stuff. However, you’d be stunned to learn just how many writers think of deadlines as suggestions or things to be totally ignored because it’s “all about the craft.” Newsflash: editors and publishers don’t give a damn if your muse called in sick. You being late holds up the show in these situations. There are, of course, legitimate reasons that come along and fuck up a schedule, but they usually involve death or dismemberment, either your own or that of a close relative. They almost never involve your need to binge watch that Netflix show which dropped a week before your deadline. Want to have a short career in publishing? Get a reputation for being late with your work. Finish your shit, and get it in.
VI. Thou Shalt Not Worry About Reviews.
Maybe you’ve achieved some measure of success. Good. Learn to expect and roll with bad reviews. For that matter, learn to expect and roll with rejections when submitting something for possible publication, but you definitely have to understand that you’re going to get bad reviews. Don’t buy into the hype for glowing reviews, don’t get worked up over bad reviews, and for fuck’s sake, don’t go full jihad on somebody for giving you a bad review. Some of them are going to be scathing, or just plain cruel. Fuck it. Fuck them. Sometimes, the reviews will call you out for mistakes you made. Yeah, that’s going to happen. Own those cock-ups, fix the serious ones, and laugh off the silly ones. Then get back to work.
VII. Thou Shalt Not Devalue Thyself.
There are uncounted people out there who don’t seem to get that writing is an actual job that requires a certain level of skill. Unfortunately, we call way too many of these people “publishers” and “editors,” and “people who should fucking know better.” My rule of thumb when it comes to writing for others is pretty simple: If they’re making money from my writing, then I’m going to make money from my writing. We can haggle the fee, but I’m getting my percentage of what I’m helping that other person earn. End of story.
VIII. Thou Shalt Read.
Feed your fucking brain, yo. Ninety percent of writing is research. Read anything and everything you can find. Books, magazines, blogs, whatever. Read outside your chosen or preferred genres. Read history, and absolutely read about current events, trends, and whatever else is shaping the world around you, for better or worse. And don’t limit your reading to material that reinforces your worldview. Read stuff that challenges your perceptions, and even pisses you off.
IX. Thou Shalt Live.
What the hell are you writing about if you haven’t done anything or experienced anything? What’s informing your writing? Crawl out of your cave and into the light. Fresh air soothes the body, mind, and spirit. Get out there. Travel. Meet people. Do shit. Go to the park or a museum or the beach, or wander around a flea market or art festival or renaissance fair. Nobody wants to read about how you never go anywhere or do anything or hate this or that. We have our own boring ass lives for that sort of thing. Life is for living, so go do it, and then find a way to channel all of that into your writing.
X. Thou Shalt Not Be A Dick.
Regardless of how far you’ve managed to make it with your writing, whether you’re published or even just working toward that goal, remember that you likely still have a readership and maybe some fans, even if it’s just family and friends. You may even have a small group of devoted folks who hang on your every word, whether it’s about what you’re working on or your craft or process, or whatever other random thought that skips across your brain pan. Don’t let that shit go to your head. Don’t disrespect those people who spend time (and money, if you happen to be published) on your writing and indeed investing in you. Do not ever take them for granted, not even for a millisecond.
Now, as with any sort of writing advice, these are info nuggets that work for me. Nothing is perfectly transferable from one writer to another, let alone one writer to everybody else wanting to be a writer. Your mileage, as the saying goes, may vary. Adapt or ignore as you see fit.
Except the first one. Write, for fuck’s sake. If you can’t do that, then no other piece of writing advice matters.
Oh, and that last one. Don’t be a dick. Really. It’s not a good look. At all.