Neil Gaiman’s 8 rules of writing.
Wil Wheaton often surprises me. He’s profane, silly, stupid, and often very wise. I find he suffers from Sturgeon’s Law, but the ten percent that isn’t crap is sublime. Wheaton finds things for me that I wouldn’t find any other way. It was Wheaton’s blog post that led me to Gaiman’s eight writing tips, even if I choose to link to the original post instead of Wil’s graphical form.
These “rules” are right on. I find that I have accidentally managed to follow them in my writing over the years I have been learning how by doing. Gaiman, as usual, is bloody well right. If John Scalzi is living my image of The Perfect Life, Neil Gaiman is living the one I would live if I weren’t an old, stodgy person - he’s married to Amanda Palmer, for Christ’s sake! That fascinatingly wild woman is someone I couldn’t survive living with, I’m certain; my wonderful wife is a perfect match for me. In fact, as my mother would tell you if she were still living, I was born stodgy and conservative. To corrupt an Indiana Jones quote, apparently it’s not the years, honey, it’s the genes.
Each of these rules of writing is important in its own right. The one about putting your manuscript away for a while before re-reading it has been vital for me. I found a lot of bugs in the storytelling from doing this, but also my perspective had changed over time. That might have something to do with the amount of time — I put it away for nearly a decade while I worked for a startup that demanded all of my energy, and later got a divorce. Sometimes life gets in the way of art.
Listening to your pre-readers is hard. Not in the sense of ego being crushed — I expected them to say things that crushed my baby’s soul. But knowing what to _do_ about the issues they found, where they arguably had a point of view more relevant to my book than I did, now that was difficult. I had two people read my book that weren’t science fiction fans of any stripe. In fact, they were both English majors. They found a lot in my book to like, which helped me feel better about it. But they also saw things that I could never perceive because I was standing in the middle of the stream that had flowed through my own experience reading science fiction for fifty years.
Gaiman and Scalzi are geniuses in their field. I’m only striving to be above average at this point.