I first met Steve at last year’s Continuum where I had the pleasure of appearing on a panel he moderated. The happy coincidence of some mutual acquaintances outside of writing and a shared love of spec fic gave us enough common ground to stay in touch. Since then, not only have we become good friends but we have also forged an excellent critiquing partnership which I have found very helpful and has proved a considerable success. For example, my upcoming story in the Epilogue anthology was the product of a booze fueled crit session (he drank, I wrote lol) in the bar at Conflux (though I did ignore his advice to go with polka dots).
Here Steve gives excellent advice on, well, advice and makes some excellent points. The only point I would strongly disagree with is that I think he is a bit humble in his introduction – as one of the most exciting new voices in Aussie Spec Fic he is more than qualified to talk on writing, and well worth listening to.
I was, of course, completely flattered when David originally invited me to write a guest post for his Wednesday Writers’ series. Immediately I started considering the content, only to question myself as to whether or not I was qualified and experienced enough to be writing this.
I consider myself to be an emerging writer with limited exposure, experience and publication history. I only commenced writing seriously three years ago and have sold around half a dozen stories. So who am I to be giving advice to any other writer?
And so I decided to give advice on advice.
Very early in my career I attended a workshop with a number of writers of wide-ranging abilities and experience. My work was critiqued and I made notes on everyone’s comments. After I returned home I rewrote my story to incorporate all this advice – only to suck the life out of it, leaving it dry, dull and soulless. Not long afterwards, I started to develop discernment in deciding whose advice I should pay the most attention to. I still listen to every comment made about my work (if it’s not clear to someone, whether a writer or not, it may not be clear to potential editors, slushreaders and readers) but I consider the source, experience and comments before making changes.
Over the years, a number of experienced writers have created sets of rules on writing and getting published. I’ve read rules by Henry Miller, Elmore Leonard, George Orwell, Margaret Atwood, Neil Gaiman, William Safire, as well as Stephen King and many others. Robert J. Sawyer has pages of advice, and recently there has been some controversy over ‘Ten Bits of Advice Writers Should Stop Giving Aspiring Writers’ from Nick Mamatas. Perhaps, though, Robert Heinlein’s rules are the most famous, and I know a number of emerging and new writers who swear by them. But it’s important to remember they were written in a time when pulp writers could and would churn out material and be able to live solely from selling short fiction. These days that’s nigh on impossible, not to mention the much higher standard of modern writing. As an example, I believe Heinlein’s rule ‘Never rewrite’ is no longer valid. (Having read a number of his later works, I wish he’d occasionally broken this rule himself) My story, ‘So Sad, The Lighthouse Keeper’, underwent a number of rewrites before it was sold to Anywhere But Earth. And during that process, it not only doubled in length but was greatly improved as a story.
There can be no set of rules that apply to every writer. A commonly mentioned rule, ‘Write everyday’, is simply not possible in my life. Neither is ‘Never trunk any of your stories’, and ‘Keep all your work circulating in markets until they sell’. Sometimes there are valid reasons why a story won’t sell.
Ultimately it’s up to every writer to create their own rules, the ones that work for them. By all means plagiarise from others. Take a bit from Heinlein, a rule from Gaiman and even one from Mamatas. And don’t be afraid to rewrite them to suit your own career, goals and lifestyle. Bear in mind that over time your rules must develop as your writing does.
Sean Williams, an excellent writer and all round good guy, has created a set of 10.5 commandments I quite like – perhaps the set closest to my own personal philosophy.
If only I had half his talent and success I’d consider posting my own set of rules.
Steve Cameron is a writer of speculative fiction. An avid reader from a very early age, he’s been threatening to write fiction for almost as long. Over the years Steve has published a variety of articles, interviews, reviews and scripts before he finally started writing short stories seriously in 2009. Steve’s most recent publication, ‘So Sad, The Lighthouse Keeper’ is available in Coeur De Lion’s Anywhere But Earth. Watch out for ‘Fireflies’ in Fablecroft’s Epilogue, coming mid 2012. For more news and information check out his blog here.