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 Dennis Venter on April 4, 2007 at 5:54pm
Talking about wives: yesterday I was reading something that impressed the hell out of me, and then some. I read an excerpt to my wife over the phone. She said: that's got to be like the crappiest writing ever! Who wrote that rot? Pause. I whimpered:

Needless to say the guilt nookie last night was pretty damn fine...but that's probably more than you needed to know.
Comment by Jannie Balliett on March 27, 2007 at 7:45am
I agree with you that what works for one doesn't necssarily work for another. I don't outline and only make notes later about characters and ideas that I want to persue. A follow-up type outline so not to forget.

I like your simple two rules of clarity and boredom and as a writer and reader, agree those are most important. I've not run across those mentioned before, when reading writing tips and have to commend you for touching on a couple of writer-awakening tips that readers are the target and keeping them happy is keeping us in business.
Comment by Robert Gregory Browne on March 17, 2007 at 6:05am
Scott, I thank you -- and my wife thanks you as well. Now we need to figure out how we can get it signed for you.
Comment by Scott Hess on March 17, 2007 at 4:29am
Ordered your book today. So if nothing else this banter has won a reader. And you didn't even have to play hard to get.

Looking forward to reading your prose.
Comment by Robert Gregory Browne on March 17, 2007 at 4:20am
LOL. You're cracking me up. But, unfortunately, they seem to become LESS impressed as time goes on.
Comment by Scott Hess on March 17, 2007 at 12:53am
Glad the wife comment resonates.

I married the woman who was LEAST IMPRESSED with me of any that I'd met. My wife was so underwhelmed by me and my schtick that I just had to have her. Fifteen years later she's yet to discover how lucky she is.
Comment by Robert Gregory Browne on March 17, 2007 at 12:49am
I'm lucky in that that one reader, as I said, is the one who convinced me to write a novel in the first place. If she hadn't, I'd still be THINKING about it.

LOL re: the wife, but I'm right there with you...
Comment by Scott Hess on March 17, 2007 at 12:17am
Right. Okay. And you know, makes sense. I'm a bit delicate myself. I need that one, smart reader...who understands my goals, the genre, the biz, and my fragile psyche...

Wife is out of the question.

Writing group could work if it was perfect, and pretty much not at all like any writing class I've ever been in.

Lord, I bet it's easier to find a mistress than that "one reader."
Comment by Robert Gregory Browne on March 16, 2007 at 4:49pm
I've never belonged to a writer's group. I know a lot of people who swear by them. My buddy Brett Battles belongs to one.

But I have one reader -- a screenwriter/novelist friend who convinced me to write KISS HER GOODBYE (which was originally a movie idea) as a novel. I trust her judgment, but she's more of a cheerleader than anything else.

And that's what I need when I'm writing. A cheerleader. If the work were to be criticized, no matter how constructively, I probably wouldn't be able to finish it. That's how strange I am... :)

Which is why a writer's group wouldn't work for me.
Comment by DADavenport on March 16, 2007 at 10:21am
A writers group got me going and sustains me as I work. The feedback is invaluable to me. Several of us are serious about our writing, several are doing it for love or fun, some join in very little but read everything written. A great bunch of people who provide huge amounts of moral support and friendship.

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