Thou Shalt Know Thyself. What is your style? How do you phrase things? How do you build tension? What kind of characters do you love/hate to write? Which words do you overuse? Where are your strengths and weaknesses? You need to come to a reckoning with these answers.
I overuse certain words. The list goes like this; that, really, and next. My ongoing revision is to search my document for these words, go through one by one and eliminate or replace each occurrence. It is not uncommon for me to have 70 “that” in a longer piece, and revise it down to 5 or 6. I know this about myself, but I don’t tend to it much during the writing of the first draft. That would just slow me down. Instead, I seek and destroy overused words during revision.
Here’s a list to get you started. http://www.consultpivotal.com/commonly_overused.htm
Thou Shalt Do Research. We can all put together a story. Where we begin to see authors rise above is in the area of research. They add interesting facts and tidbits. Things that make us, the reader, smarter or inspired enough to do a Google search to see if it is true.
A story without tantalizing research-based facts is like chicken noodle soup with only water, noodles, and chicken. Yes, it is chicken noodle soup but it is bland. It is the seasoning and vegetables that make it yummy. I mean, no one’s secret soup ingredient has ever been water or chicken. Flavor your writing with facts.
Thou Shalt Demand Progress. There is nothing more debilitating to your progress than being focused on sales. Write for yourself first and others second. Put all thoughts of making it big fall away. Chasing money only serves to kill your muse.
Instead, demand progress from yourself. The art of writing is infinitely complicated and can only be learned while you write. Study style and structure and technique. Listen to those who know. Apply what you can as you go. But understand it is impossible to master this art. However, it is possible to become proficient enough to produce quality writing.
Thou Shalt Wait. Our brain requires time to process what we have written. It is a curious process. For some reason, once we have an idea or draft, our brain spends a lot of time with it. While we sleep it analyzes our work. While we shower it offers insights. While we exercise it constructs the perfect revision ideas. And then it presents all of this to us…if we are patient and willing to listen.
But, it means we need to slow down. The process takes time. It means we need to take days off. It means we need to listen to the little voice when it speaks.
I refer to my little voice as my little man. He is short, bald, unshaven, cranky, and smokes a fat cigar. He wears overalls and has a messy desk. He is my ally. I speak directly to him. I say things like, “Little man, I need you to find a clever ending for this chapter” or “Little man, can you find that name I thought of a while ago?” or “Little man, would you be so kind to find a cool way to remove these characters from the dungeon?”
Then, I go off into my day while he works these things out for me. He hasn’t failed me yet. But, I do need to be patient and ready and silent enough to listen. It always works.
Thou Shalt Revise. What is revising? It is you constantly asking yourself, “How can this be better?” It is the part of the writing process where you create beauty. If you think you are done revising, you aren’t. It is a brutal and long event. You, the creator, assume the role of violent disrupter. It is often painful. You slash at your creation with ruthless red eyes. In fact, I only feel like a writer when I become willing to delete entire pages in order to transform my writing from good to beautiful.
Thou Shalt Know Your Purpose. Why do you write? It should be stated succinctly. I write because my soul requires me to. Because I want to leave a portion of my spirit for those who love me. My novel, Emerge Beyond Circles is my love letter to the world. It is my offering to humanity, my chance to bring beauty to my species. I write because I am a writer.
When the pressure of this world pushes and pummels me, and my energy for writing dies, I come back to these commandments. They focus me. Energize me. I hope they are of benefit to you as well.