The following is a cross-post from my website blog:

Everybody’s looking for it. Years ago, when I was an aspiring writer, I wanted desperately to find that magic key that would let me into the world of the pros, would open up that treasure box full of secrets — especially the ones that would get me published or produced.

I searched high and low for that key. I read books about writing, hoping that somewhere, buried in their pages, the key was waiting for me to stumble across it. And every time I was told by some guru that there was a specific way I should be approaching the craft, that his or her method was the key, I believed it. If I wasn’t practicing my craft exactly the way they said I should be, I immediately went into crisis mode.

Problem was, they all had different and often contradictory methods. So, naturally, I was constantly in crisis.

I taught a workshop at a writer’s conference recently. In that workshop I prefaced my lecture with these words — words that I think EVERY writing teacher should use before they get started: “This is MY method of writing. It works great for me, but it may not work for you. Everyone has to find their own way of approaching the craft.”

Even though I said this, more than one person came up to me afterward or wrote to me later and said, “I’m so happy to hear you don’t outline. I don’t either, and I’ve always worried about that.”

I understand the worry. But I have to wonder if my message was received. Apparently not.

So I’ll say it again: There are no absolutes in the craft of writing. What works for some will not work for everyone. Take what you read and hear about craft with a grain of salt. Use what works for you and discard the rest. Consider whatever I and/or others tell you about craft to be a source of INSPIRATION, not gospel.

No matter how long you search, you will never find the key to the kingdom. You must, I’m afraid, forge your own.

That said, here are the two most important “rules” of writing:

1. NEVER BE BORING. You must not bore your reader. Once he or she is bored, the book gets skimmed or, worse yet, tossed. You must write dynamically, filling your stories with characters who have dimension and purpose. Give them goals they can reach for. Goals that will get the reader cheering them on. Don’t spell everything out up front, but slowly reveal the truth.

2. WRITE WITH CLARITY. Just because YOU know what’s going on, doesn’t mean your reader will. Be sure that they do. Make your character goals and motivations clear, make your action clear, make your dialog clear. Once you get fuzzy you’ll lose your audience.

I know the above rules are vague. And while it’s nice to know these so-called rules, HOW do we make sure we’re following them?

That, I’m afraid, is up to you. I could probably spend hours telling you how I try to do it, but your results may vary…

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Comment by Scott Hess on March 16, 2007 at 8:33am
Thanks for this, RGB. I'm in hot pursuit of my own keys. The biggest thing I've learned 200 pages into my first attempt at the long form is that it's damn hard to write into a vacuum.

Any thoughts about writers' groups? Or are those just another variable...works for some, not for others?

(I'm thinking it's hard to know -- all by my lonesome -- when I'm being boring, when I'm lacking clarity...)

- Scott

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