“There are three rules for writing well. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.”
W. Somerset Maugham
That said, Jeremiah Abrams has come up with three rules that are about as helpful as any other trio you might find — and since, according to Somerset, no one knows what the three are, Jeremiah might be on the money. He’s the author of Reclaiming Your Inner Child and Meeting the Shadow. He’s also a Jungian psychotherapist and writing coach who blends teaching and motivation. I came across his three rules on thecreativepenn.com — author/entrepreneur Joanna Penn’s pithy, thought-provoking website. Here they are:
1. Be a reader: Every wonderful writer you love was a reader first. And a deep love for the written word is a common bond that we all share with writers past and present. T.S. Eliot made an observation about poetry that can be fruitfully applied to any type of writing: “Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different. The good poet welds his theft into a whole of feeling which is unique, utterly different than that from which it is torn; the bad poet throws it into something which has no cohesion. A good poet will usually borrow from authors remote in time, or alien in language, or diverse in interest.”
2. Listen to your inner voice and take dictation: In his work with many writers and in reading interviews with many other, Jeremiah was surprised to see a consistent thread. Here’s how he described it: “The majority of authors explicitly stated that their writing process consisted of listening first. The creative act is in writing down what you hear. Whether it is a character speaking dialogue or a discursive inner monologue, crafting your writing means being the scribe to an internal narrative process.” I remember the great playwright August Wilson talking about sitting in a room and listening to his characters talk to him and then copying down what they said.
3. Read your written work aloud: Over and over again, everyone from writers and editors to agents stresses this. Taking this step can mean the difference between a story that sags and one that sings. I am absolutely planning to do this once my historical fantasy is finished. As Jeremiah Abrams says so well: “Hearing your own words spoken aloud is essential for editing and rewriting. Listen for the music and cadence as the words flow and fall like a dancing brook of ideas and feelings. Instantly, you will hear what does not belong and also notice where the narrative thread needs work.”
Great advice to ponder and apply as we write on.