The New Rules
1. Rion Amilcar Scott
By all means, don't practice your sentence construction, or read to observe the architectonics of finely crafted stories; don't intensely observe the world, looking in the opposite direction of the crowd in order to develop a personal vision; don't read poetry or listen to rap lyrics to expand your understanding of the elasticity of language; don't listen to music to graft melodic structures to your sentence architecture, don't count syllables or pay special attention to the distribution of vowels, consonants and sound clusters for the sake of tonality and rhythm; instead I think you'll find it highly beneficial to observe bland, or unhelpful, or inscrutable faux zen-like koans delivered laughably with the straight-faced seriousness of the Law of Moses.
2. Eloisa Amezcua
Always have at least one beverage nearby. The first thing that will happen when you get into a good writing groove is that you’ll get thirsty. The last thing you're going to want to do is get up to fix yourself something to quench that thirst. Coffee, tea, water (room temperature with lemon), hot chocolate with mini marshmallows, a half-limeade/half-sparkling water concoction, French 75s, enough matcha tea to detox every cell in your body twice over, and your neighbor’s home-brewed kombucha that they swear will clear up that stress rash are all great options, just follow your parched little heart and stay hydrated!
3. Mila Jaroniec
Grant yourself freedom from everything. Imagine never being published, wanted, paid, acknowledged, judged. Step into that freedom and write from there.
4. Larissa Pham
The sentence you revise, cut, and trim down will always be better than the sentence that flowed out of your head to get you there, but you need to start with a bad sentence—any sentence—to end up with a good one.
5. Erica Cardwell
Writing isn't magic, but structure is. This is probably where teaching composition for four years influences my writing process. To clarify, when I mention structure, I am talking about that frustrating yet important writing school word - craft. So, craft. Structure... Magic?
This is not meant to assert that writing doesn't possess a magical synergy between heart and mind. Writing is a powerful source of self-transformation and community enrichment. But, I am thinking of structure in the way you use a recipe, where there's an exactness and precision required, that over time (and drafts) you begin to understand the flavor of, how it works, and the great big emotionally satisfying and sometimes world-building direction that this flavor is leading you in. Then, you realize that the magical recipe is no longer needed. Or becomes something (s) else - an intuitive blueprint for creating the kind of "food" you enjoy and want to feed to others. This is certainly a trite and familiar metaphor, but I find it to be useful when thinking about the importance of craft.
6. Nafkote Tamirat
Listen to People
My friend Sarah-Jane has this thing about the word “wince”: people in books are constantly doing it, but as far as she can tell, no one in real life has managed it yet. It’s a lazy word, she argues, taking the place of other more vivid and concrete terms, and I’m inclined to agree with her. A similar thing happens with dialogue, where people are often “exclaiming” and “uttering” and “musing” when, if we’re being honest, most of us are too busy saying stuff to do much else with our voices.
This doesn’t mean that written conversations should read like text messages (in fact, they really shouldn’t). There’s a profound pleasure to be gleaned from reading characters who speak in the way that you wish you always could, with polish, wit and crushing rejoinders. Nor does it mean that dialogue has to correspond exactly to our daily speech patterns: it can reach for higher or lower registers, occur between extraterrestrials whose syntax doesn’t allow for verb forms, etc. But too often, we forget that each person (or extraterrestrial) brings their own particularities to speech: pauses, inflections, word choices, affectations. It’s these nuances that help make a character come alive on the page, so that their speech is irrepressibly theirs, and theirs alone.
All of this is to say: take the time to talk to as many different people as you can, and more importantly, to actually listen to their responses, their silences and their reactions, be they verbal or not. Not only will it make writing dialogue more fun, but it’ll give you the chance to bring your own unique vision into the worlds you create, since along with the fact that no two people speak alike, no two people listen and understand alike either.
Here’s an easy trick to remember: More Listening = Less Wincing.
7. Chelsea Martin
Don’t be afraid to alienate people. Most people suck and talk shit about you behind your back. You know that, right? The only way to get revenge is to make art they’re too stupid to understand.
8. Juliet Escoria
Rule: Thesis statements belong in English 101 essays.
If the idea behind your story/poem/essay/whatever can be distilled into 1-2 sentences, then throw it away. Only bother writing something if it doesn’t quite make sense to you, doesn’t follow an easy set of ethics or morals, and can’t be defined by any one philosophy or line of thought.
If you have the urge to express a thesis statement, but don’t want to write an academic essay, then keep in mind that journals and friends are great to rant to.
9. Juan Vidal
Never write a word without first submerging your computer in a tub of running water. The cleansing flow helps keep the devil at bay. The reader is a friend. Tell them to buy you a black leather biker jacket. You’ve always wanted a black leather biker jacket. Conduct your business during the day and write at night with joyful abandon. Unless a friend shows up with tacos, in which case, eat the tacos and try again the next day.
10. Charlotte Shane
Reading your work aloud will allow your ears to catch all sorts of quirks and minor errors that the eyes forgive. Unfortunately, this requires literally speaking the words, with breath, so that they’re audible to you; *imagining* reading it aloud, i.e. the oxymoronic "reading it aloud in your head" doesn’t count. (I don't know what to tell those of you who write in coffee shops, you’ve just got to suck it up and annoy your neighbors.) I find it’s useful to do this before I turn in any drafts, and to reinvigorate me when I’m flagging in the middle of a piece. Speaking generates mental momentum, and reminds me I’m just a humble, normal human, using well-worn words to communicate my thoughts like I do constantly throughout the day—not an imprisoned angel inventing a brand new language to describe heavenly phenomenon no one else has ever seen. Which sounds like it would be really hard!