Success & Prosperity Blog

Rules for Writers

By Randy Gage in Critical Thinking, Success.

Let’s grab a few ordinary words, throw them in some incomplete sentences, mix in some bad grammar, and see what we come up with:

In a couple of days they come and
Take me away
But the press let the story leak

And when the radical priest
Come to get me released
We was all on the cover of Newsweek

So how does Paul Simon do that – in such a disarmingly simple, but breathtakingly brilliant way?

What makes a novel gripping, a blog post empowering, or puts the poetic in poetry?

I get a lot of letters and emails from aspiring writers, asking for my insights on the craft of writing. Usually I just direct them to a couple of my favorite books, The War of Art and On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. And to this Twitter feed.

But if pressed, I do have some thoughts to share with you. So if writing is your thing, here are the nine rules I follow for making it special:

1) The real triumph isn’t developing new ideas as much as it is about blowing up old ones.

The world doesn’t need more recaps, rehashes, and summaries. We’re looking for something bold, daring and imaginative. Something that excites us and makes us see something about the world (or another world) in a way we’ve never seen it before.

So let go of your expectations, programming, preconceptions and existing ideas – and begin with something fresh.

2) The first five drafts are shit.

Really. Except every once in a while – maybe every thousand things or so you write – the magic happens on the first draft.

But if it’s the first draft of your first poem, first story, or first novel – that isn’t it. That’s the built-in delusion of the beginning writer leading you on. Trust me, it’s shit.

Even though your mother and your spouse say it’s amazing. They have the same disease you do, just by osmosis.

But that’s okay, it’s all good. You start by writing garbage, and then you write stuff that’s okay. Next you progress to stuff that’s actually good. If you stay with it, work on your craft, and persevere, you will sometimes write something amazeballs magnificent the first time around…

The moon is in the seventh house, Jupiter aligns with Mars, you’ve had the perfect percolation, gestation and incubation of heartbreak, class two narcotics, a dreary hotel room, and a Dwight Yoakum soundtrack – and you’ve produced the great American novel, a love song people will cry over, or a blog post that will change the world.

You’ll know it when you got it. And know that for the next thing you write, the first five drafts will be shit.

3) Writers write.

That’s what we do. Posing over the keyboard at Starbucks doesn’t qualify. Telling people you’re an author at dinner parties doesn’t either. If you want to be a writer, you have to write every day.

You ever heard of dentist’s block? Neither have I.

You don’t find time to write; you make time to write. You don’t wait for inspiration to strike. You drag it kicking and screaming from your subconscious mind. Or you massage it from the first five drafts of shit.

4) Tell us a story.

This isn’t as hard as writers and speakers make it look. We don’t need more statistics, better footnotes, or more validation from pundits. There’s a place for charts, graphs and figures. Just not from you.

We want the lesson, principle or philosophy you’re driving at. But if you really want us to own it – break it down into the human element and captivate us with the story behind the story.

5) Have a point of view.

One that is actually yours. We don’t buy your book to get a book report of someone else’s. We don’t read your blog to find out if this social media fad is going to last or we should be kind to animals. Tell us something we don’t know yet.

Be generous.Give credit, quote others, and provide us with links to the relevant stuff that supports your case. Be a conduit for awesome-sauce. But always remember that we’re reading your book, or your blog or your story for your unique thoughts and insights.

Challenge us, get in our face a little; tell us the stuff we may not want to hear, but need to.

We need you to be a little arrogant. Not arrogance in telling us how great you are or how big your book advance was, because that just brings out the pettiness of both of us. But we need you to be cocky enough to believe you have something important to say and that we should listen to you.

Tell us about the opportunity JFK missed, the insight Gandhi left out, or the theory Einstein got wrong.

Most importantly, tell us about the thing we’re missing – the thing that’s holding us back from breaking through into the next great accomplishment we’re seeking.

If you want to be a thought leader, capture our imagination, or change the world – be willing to give up the need to be liked. Telling people what they want to hear makes you popular. Telling people what they need to hear makes you relevant, empowering, and significant.

And what better qualities for a writer are there than being relevant, empowering, and significant?

6) Edit ruthlessly.

Our natural inclination is to think editing involves addition, but it’s usually subtraction. Like Michelangelo chipping away the stone, you find the perfect words only by eliminating the non-essential ones.

7) Kill distractions.

Normal people don’t think writing is real work, so they have no inhibitions about interrupting you at any time. You have to set boundaries with family and friends, and create a safe space you can work.

It’s just a hunch, but I don’t think Shakespeare, Falkner or Hemingway had very good Internet connections. Those cat videos and surfing dogs don’t provide as much real inspiration as you think they do. When the writing starts, the email and phone lines need to stop.

Multitasking is one of those little lies we tell ourselves to avoid self-discipline. Real writing requires focus without distractions. And that focus needs breaks, so take them. But make the breaks breaks, and the writing writing.

8) Let the work be the work.

Seek and embrace feedback from the right people at the appropriate stage of writing. That’s people you trust, who want only the highest good for you, and they are qualified to give the advice. If they don’t match in all three areas, their advice will be counter-productive. If you have one or two people in your world who meet these criteria, you’re doing amazing. So get feedback if you can, at the proper stages.

But once the work is done, it’s done…

Don’t defend the work.  The work is the work.

Don’t debate the work.  The work is the work.

Don’t feed the trolls.  Some people come from different agendas and want to attack the motives for the work or the artist who did the work.  Never get drawn into that, because there is the road to endless distractions.

Do defend and debate the ideas in the work.  That’s when things get really interesting.

Do allow people to challenge your beliefs.  That’s where the best breakthroughs live.

Don’t allow people to challenge your confidence.  You have enough self-doubt already, you don’t need to collect any more.  Tell your truth as you know it and let it stand.

Don’t try to please everybody.  In fact, do the opposite:  try to piss some people off, because if you did, then you’re probably writing something that matters.

9) Any of the first eight rules can be negated.

They all can be annulled by the mother of all rules – which states that any rule can be broken – provided you know you’re breaking it and why.

Thoughts? What rules did I leave out that you think belong here?

-RG

Randy Gage is the author of nine international bestsellers on success, including, Risky Is the New Safe. He’s currently on sabbatical, writing his next book, but posts occasionally here. If you find these postcards helpful, please share them.

 

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33 thoughts on “Rules for Writers

  1. napadavid says:

    Just read an article on Bob Dylan ripping off Jack London in his autobio and in the article Oscar Wilde quipped “talent borrows, genuis steals.”

  2. Larry Winget says:

    I start by figuring out the problem I want to solve . . . something I see that is an issue for many people.  Then I ask myself if I have a really strong point of view about that problem.  If not, I find a different problem.  If it is yes, I start talking out loud about my POV and get myself worked up about it and usually a title falls out of my mouth.  People buy titles, not books.  Titles get the book picked up, looked at, thumbed through.  Titles attract attention.  Titles get you publicity and media coverage.  My books are good.  My titles are GREAT. At that point, I just do a data dump thinking about every point I would like to make.  I group them.  They become chapters.  Then I think about stories that illustrate my point.  That done, I start to write the book.  
    Larry
    Winget is
    the author of the new book Grow A Pair:
    How to stop being a victim and take back your life, your business and your
    sanity.  He is a six-time New York
    Times/Wall Street Journal bestselling author of books such
    as Shut Up, Stop Whining and Get A Life
    and You’re Broke Because You Want To Be.  For more information, go to http://www.larrywinget.com

  3. RichardBony says:

    Hi Randy,
    This lesson just comes at the right time for me. Thanks for posting.

  4. PeterMawutinHundeyin says:

    Bless you it really bless me

  5. Jonathan1 says:

    So glad you once again reference Steve Pressfield’s “The War of Art”..my copy is sitting right next to my PC. I’m going to share this with the writers I collaborate with also. In the field of film/TV/web series it’s all about STORY so point #1 is on the mark. I really like what you say in #8 about pissing people off.. All in the Family did a great job of that, and our plan is to do likewise.. Way too many mimics in our area that just want to please everyone. Thanks for addressing this area too.. I’m very grateful.

  6. ThomasMrak says:

    You could apply this mindset to anything you wish to do. 
    It’s useful for nearly anyone who has a dream and has the courage to see it through despite circumstance and what other people do.

  7. ThomasMrak says:

    Jonathan1 Steven Pressfield answers his own e-mails. I had a conversation via e-mail once about creativity. 
    It was scary to write to him, because I thought he “above” me, but it made me realize that high achievers often aren’t different from anyone else, they just kept going, so now, I am less intimidated.

  8. ThomasMrak says:

    #7 Pretty much anything beyond living the 9-5 drudgery is not seen as “real work”.
    This is one of the main reasons most people stay poor or end up working a job they hate, or they do have what many people would consider success- they have the big house, the nice import car, their kids attend the best schools, but they work 80+ hours a week, killing themselves to pay for it. 
    It’s also why anything which questions this status quo is met with resistance, and sadly all too often, abuse.
    High achievers in any field aren’t always the smartest, most well connected, or the most talented. They just happened to not let other people’s negativity or circumstance stop them from their goals. They also enjoyed the process.
    Many people quit too early because they only see the end result of someone’s, sometimes years, of struggle, pain, suffering, and failure to get where they are. They assume they got “lucky”, attended the right schools, or knew people.

    I’ve known people personally who’ve had happy childhoods/who had immense privilege that people would envy, but they have done little with their lives and in some instances, are drug addicts, alcoholics, or worse!
    Upbringing does play a part, as does what happens to you. Other people will always tell you you aren’t the right age, you don’t have the right experience, you don’t have the right education, and so on.
    Now, if you want to be a doctor you need to be a certain age and have a certain education, but nearly everything else, while it won’t be as easy has having your parents grant you the opportunity, you can do nearly anything whether you have the proper credentials, connections, experience or not if you create something which connects with others or provides them with some sort of value. 
    Someone will always tell you no and why you are unworthy. The last person it should ever be is YOU.

  9. ThomasMrak says:

    napadavid Steve Jobs said something similar. Speaking of Apple, the design of modern Apple products seems to drawn inspiration form the work of Dieter Rams, an industrial designer who did a lot of work for Braun. There are also some design inspirations from Leica cameras in Apple’s line.

  10. Terry Brock says:

    You got it, Randy! I loved the points. #3 and #6 both are right on target. I might add it is good to find the time of day and under what conditions you are most productive, creative, and awake! For me, mornings are best, so that’s when I do most of my writing. Each person has to know what conditions are best for them. 
    Brilliant as ever, Randy. Thanx for sharing this!
    Terry

  11. MorningCoach says:

    Rock on Randy,
    One thing I would like to add is to write for your crowd. I think so many people get caught up worrying what their 9th grade grammar teacher thinks, instead of writing for their own audience. I have a secret for you. That 8th grade grammar teacher ain’t buying anything. (That ain’t was directed to MY 8th grade grammar teacher).
    #2 really hit home. If you have as much energy as I do, I want to write and be done with it. The truth is it takes time to let that muse rock-n-roll.
    Tell stories, create great content, and have fun. You can always hire an editor.
    Loves of love
    JB

  12. treydyer says:

    Finally you write something worth reading Gage! 😉

  13. Luc Griffet says:

    One rule which always serves me when I am writing is “Say what you mean”. This is likely to come under rule #6 Edit ruthlessly as it usually lead me to suppress the 10 last lines or so and to replace them by just a few words…or sometimes nothing!

    I find these rules very helpful & love this post, thank you!

  14. Art Murray says:

    Very well summarized, Randy.  The best writer’s course I’ve ever taken was the seminar you did with Ted Nicholas about 15 years ago. You taught me how to use dot-dot-dot, among other things!  In fact, it probably wouldn’t hurt to dust it off and give it a fresh look…

  15. Straight to the point. Great! Thank you. I would like to add: keep your eyes open, there will be a lot of everyday situations that inspire you, proof your point and make it more palpable. Don’t think they are too simple, they are just right!

  16. Mellogk says:

    wow! So Fascinating. Thank you Gage for posting.

  17. Larry Winget says:

    I start with the problem I want to solve.  I’ve done money, parenting, entitlement/victimhood, and stupidity in life and business.  Then I figure out what my solution to that problem is.  If I can get riled up about it, then I know I have something.  I rant out loud for a while and listen to see what falls out of my face.  That is where I usually find my title.  Titles are important.  Titles sell books.  Titles grab the attention of the reader and the media.  In reality, few people get past the title anyway, so make sure your title says everything about your point of view.  Shut Up, Stop Whining and Get A Life, People Are Idiots And I Can Prove It, You’re Broke Because You Want To Be, Your Kids Are Your Own Fault and Grow A Pair are examples of the title telling my point of view and what the book is about.  Then I think about all of the ways I would go about solving that initial problem.  I make a list and those become the chapters.  Then I think through every story I know that illustrates the problem and my solution.  Then I write those stories.  Stories are the key.  People won’t remember your list of how-to’s but they will remember your stories.  That creates my outline.  Then I begin writing.  It’s almost fill in the blanks at that point.  I re-read it all every day to keep me on track and in a couple of months I have a book.  Btw, I write when I am inspired, not because it is time to write.  What inspires me? Money.  A deadline.  Or something that really pisses me off and that’s where I go back to the initial problem; if it doesn’t piss me off, then I will never write the book.

  18. What greta read. It makes lots of sense and good advice. It will help me moving forward in my own writing. Thank You!

  19. Randy_Gage says:

    For you guys interested, here’s what Joe Calloway emailed me (and gave me permission to share with you):

    Here’s how I write, and, except for a couple of the rules, I would never suggest that anyone else adopt these rules.  They are peculiar and particular to how I work and
    to my own style of writing…….
    1. Get up at 4:00AM, make coffee, write.  From about 6:30AM on, it’s downhill for me.  Write before and as the sun comes up.
    2. If I feel that the muse is about to descend upon me and I have a marathon coming on, get to a beach.  It’s the sound.  When I’m on a roll, there’s
    nothing that feeds the writing fire for me like hearing waves on the beach 24/7.
    3. This one from Larry Winget – one of the best writing ideas I’ve ever heard:  Before I begin writing, read everything I’ve written up to that point.  If I’m working on the end
    of the book, it means I have to read the entire thing before I begin.  Time well spent.
    4. Send a draft to Randy Gage.  I sent a draft of Be The Best At What Matters Most to Randy, and he correctly pointed out that what I had as Chapter 4 should actually be the opening of the book.  When I saw it my reaction was “Well I’ll be damned.”  It made all the difference in the world.
    5. Minimal re-writing.  Spew it out there and leave it alone.
    6. Make sure my editors leave the writing in my “voice.”  I may have a two word sentence.  Just two.  Or even one word.  Just.  One. 
    Note to editor:  leave it alone.
    7. If I’m writing stuff that everyone’s already heard/read from someone else…….throw it away and start over.
    8. Don’t make the mistake of writing a book because my publisher says “it’s time for another book.”  I’ve written 5 published books.  Two of them are pretty good.  I was
    excited about the ideas in both of them.  The other three were written to have another book out there.  They are pretty crappy.
    9. If I don’t launch into a rant when I’m talking about the book, then I’ve got a dud on my hands.  Find another subject.
    10. Take a stand.
    – jc

  20. Bob Burg says:

    Randy_Gage Regarding Joe’s Rule #4 where he wrote: 4. Send a draft to Randy Gage.  I sent a draft of Be The Best At What
    Matters Most to Randy, and he correctly pointed out that what I had as
    Chapter 4 should actually be the opening of the book.  When I saw it my
    reaction was “Well I’ll be damned.”  It made all the difference in the
    world.
    Exact same thing for me. I sent you the draft for Adversaries into Allies and you saw a part I had about 5 pages and you said I needed to begin the book with that part. My response was pretty much the same as Joe’s. And, also like Joe, it make all the difference in the world!

  21. pandkenterprises says:

    Not Shakespeare but I am working on being the next Johnny Holmes.

  22. Sankalp says:

    Thanks a lot RG this is really the best steps to develop ourselves becoming a writer. Regards..

  23. Sean O'shea says:

    Awesome post Randy! Thanks so much. 🙂

  24. PeterGHorrill says:

    Hey RG and community.. the insight of to be genuinely “objective” one has to first recognize they are subjective first.. that thought bubbled up into my consciousness as I read this blogpost and comments..
    ~ so much value here.. thankyou.
    I wrote a book three years ago and self published it on Amazon. I wrote because it was “in me”; it HAD to get written.. never wrote a book before, and haven’t written one since.
    Love writing blogposts however. 
    Recently I discovered the feeling behind the writing of this book:

    If a person feels something is wrong; and doesn’t express that “wrong”; it’s the “beginning of dis-ease”
    I had to “release” that message to express myself and stay on “the high level well being” road.

    Everyone sees life uniquely.  
    Every story is meant to be voiced, either in written words or verbal expression. Some folks express more authentically in writing.

    They become MORE of themselves through the process. It’s cathartic.
    If you can “see” through your unique VISION a wrong that could “righted”, you probably have a “gift” of written WORD from God.

    Writing, I wholeheartedly believe it’s an excellent way to understand one’s “prosperity powers”. It allows one to witness creation AND idea conception. It’s a “private Victory” for effective people that love the written WORD.

  25. Ged Swanson says:

    Wow, love it Mr G.BOOM!

  26. Jake French says:

    One of the most powerful gifts you give to the world Randy is the challenge to be a contrarian. Thanks for giving us a much needed shove!

  27. PatFortinMussieux says:

    Great article – really enjoyed the comments below (especially @Larry Winget , of course! He’s a great mentor to me!) – Am working daily on #5; and am a work in progress. (what really ticks me off though is the process I had to go through to get this comment posted on the page! Geesh!)

  28. When you asked me if the thoughts I shared with you about my writing were too personal to share I took it as a challenge to polish them a bit to make them worthy of sharing. Thanks a million for the inspiration and nudge. Mad love and here’s the story! http://goodmenproject.com/featured-content/soul-stuff-and-substance-dg/

  29. JUNILEI says:

    thank you

  30. What does that mean, exactly. Plagiarism is a major no-no.

  31. MarkHibbitts says:

    Only the first 5? Damn, you’re good.

  32. bobbobaram says:

    First two sentences of rule 8!  I’ve made the mistake of letting The Wrong People read my stories – horrible! This time I chose “people I trust…people who want my highest good… people who are qualified (because they are my target audience – guys just don’t ‘get’ chick lit, duh.)  And what a wonderful experience it has been to get feedback, both praise & good suggestions, from The Right People.  Someday I might even get published.  Just now with this novel, I’ve come up against The Invisible Wall; it’s not glass. I think it is ice. I know I’m the one who created it. I think it might be saran-wrap….

  33. What I decided to do for Blogging & Vlogging right now: I am not really following any rules. I am just posting thoughts as I go. I can go back later and rewrite/record.

    For programming, I am going to use code I have already written and talk through it as a re-write it.

    I actually did a few different versions of the loving-kindness meditation. I took the suffering out.

    So I am going to re-write some things I am reading that are negative & make them positive.

 

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