Wright’s Ten Rules on Writing

Since becoming an author, from time to time interested fans (or else people willing to make me feel better by playing along with the idea that I am real writer by pretending to be fans) will ask me to pass on my writing tips. This is one question I find easy to answer, because my advice is the same for any new writer, no matter his age or level of skill.

 Here are John C. Wright’s patented and guaranteed Ten Commandments for How to be a Writer.

 1. In order to be a writer, you must write. Give yourself a page-per-week quota or an hour-per-week quota, or whatever is needed, so that you will write when you are not in the mood to write.

 2. In order to write, you must use proper spelling, punctuation, grammar; or, if you violate these rules, the violation must be deliberate, to create an artistic effect. Avoid politically correct jargon at all costs. Do not use ugly constructions like “he or she”; it will date your work, and the cool people will laugh at you.

 3. In order to be a writer, you must sell what you write. No manuscript should spend a single night on your desk; the same day you get a rejection, put the manuscript in the mail to the next editor. Let the manuscripts spend their nights on the editor’s desk.

 4. In order to sell what you write, read the editor’s guidelines for his magazine or publishing house and follow them. These guidelines are available in a reference book called Writer’s Market. Get the reference book for the current year. If the guidelines say double-spaced white paper single sided, and no samurai vampire stories, do not send him “Lightning Swords of the Nosferatu of Kyoto” printed on blood-red paper, single-spaced, double sided. Failure to follow the guidelines shows you are a dude, a greenhorn, a tenderfoot, a punk, a novice, not someone meant to be treated with professional courtesy. Your story is your child: no mother would send her child out to look for a job without fixing his tie and shining his shoes.

 5. Include a self-addressed stamped envelope with proper postage affixed, if you want the manuscript back.

 6. You will receive on average ONE HUNDRED rejection slips before you make your first sale. This is an average. This means that if someone, say, Lester del Rey, makes his first sale on his first attempt without getting a rejection, that someone else, say, Ray Bradbury, will get two hundred rejection slips.

 7. If your manuscript is good or bad, send out your manuscript again. Genius does not count. Only persistence counts. The world will not recognize your genius until after you are dead. But the world can recognize your persistence now.

 8. If the manuscript is good, send out your manuscript again. The editor who rejected it last month or last year may have different needs or a different budget this month or this year.

 9. If the manuscript is bad, send out your manuscript again. The worst thing you ever wrote will someday, somehow, be some schoolboy’s favorite story ever. Your readers are your employers. Respect and fear them. Do not approach this work with pride or selfishness or any of the other emotions to which men of fragile artistic spirits are inclined. It is a profession. Act professionally.

 10. Selling writing means your manuscripts go out, and money comes back in. Money always goes toward the writer. Money never goes away from the writer. This means you do not hire a manuscript doctor, you do not pay a reading fee, you do not enter a contest which charges an entry fee. Those are scams. Agents are paid on commission, paid when and only when they sell your wares, whereupon the money comes from the publisher and goes toward you; You do not pay the agent a retainer.

 To sum up: To be a writer, you write. You write by writing grammatically correct English, not Politically Correct Newspeak. You sell what you write. You sell what you write by following the editor’s submission guidelines. You include a self-addressed stamped envelope. You continue to submit stories whether they are good, bad or mediocre. You treat it like a job. Money goes toward the writer.

 Do not wait to be inspired. So-called inspiration consists of sitting down at scheduled times for scheduled amounts of time and actually doing the work of writing. It is the same inspiration used by a cobbler to make a shoe, or a carpenter to make a chair.

 Writing is not accomplished by inspiration. It is accomplished by not making excuses to not accomplish it.

 Let me add one more rule to my list of ten rules. This is the Eleventh Commandment, the unwritten rule:

 11. When you get a rejection slip, be thankful.

 Yes, you heard me. Not only are you NOT to take it personally, you are to have thanks and gratitude in your heart for getting rejected.

 Rejection slips come in three grades: (1) impersonal form letters (2) form letters with specific reasons for rejection (3) personal notes from the editor explaining the rejection.

 You are to be thankful for getting an impersonal form letter because it means one more rejection slip of the one hundred or two hundred you must collect before you make your first sale has been checked off. This means that your manuscript, which has been sitting on his desk for seven months, is now free to be submitted to another editor, perhaps even to that one special editor which God or Fate or Blind Chance or the Seldon Plan of History (take your pick) had intended from the first to be the place where your manuscript would find its home. It means a fresh chance, another turn of the Wheel of Fortune. 

 You are to be thankful for getting form letters with specific rejection reasons because you can use this information to improve the story or improve your sales pitch, and because there is no other place in the universe you can get this information.

 You are to be thankful for personal notes from the editor explaining the rejection, because this means you have graduated to the rank of being a real writer, even if you have yet to sell a single word of your art, because editors do not take the time to explain themselves to rank amateurs. It means you are good enough to make the sale, and you just so happen not to have made it this time. It is encouragement.

 The main reason why you are to be thankful and grateful for rejection slips rather than bitter and insulted is that professionals are thankful. Above all, you are thankful Fate has allowed you even a slender chance at entering a profession made of wonder. You get to write down daydreams and people pay you money for it. A few blows to the ego are a small price to pay, and are probably good for improving your character anyway.

 If you take things personally, your professional life will be purgatory. 

 Writers know writing is the best profession in the world, and they are grateful for all it, good and bad alike, rejections and sales alike. That is what makes them professionals.

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