writers tips / writing

Writers Tip #85: Nathan Bransford’s 10 Commandments

When you read your story, does it sound off, maybe you can’t quite put your finger on it, but you know you’ve done something wrong? Sometimes–maybe even lots of times–there are simple fixes. These writer’s tips will come at you once a week, giving you plenty of time to go through your story and make the adjustments.

Nathan Bransford wears a variety of hats. He is a former literary agent for Curtis Brown Ltd., former social media manager at CNET, well-regarded how-to-get-published blogger, and author of  the Jacob Wonderbar series as well as a variety of books on writing and getting published. The hat I like best is his blogger gig where he shares everything in a friendly approachable, believable voice.

So when I found his list of 10 Commandments for a Happy Writer, I stopped to read them, even though they’re a couple of years old. If you’re struggling with a novel, trying to bounce back from negative criticism, or wondering why you ever thought you could write, this is a good list for you:

Writers aren’t generally known as the happiest lot. As a recent Guardian survey of some top writers shows, even the best ones don’t particularly enjoy it all that much. And in case you think this is a new development, an 1842 letter from Edgar Allen Poe to his publisher recently surfaced in which he was found apologizing for drinking so much and begging for money. But believe it or not, writing and happiness can, in fact, go together….here are ten ways for a writer to stay positive:

  1. Enjoy the present. Writers are dreamers, and dreamers tend to daydream about the future while concocting wildly optimistic scenarios that involve bestsellerdom, riches, and interviews with Ryan Seacrest. In doing so they forget to enjoy the present. I call this the “if only” game. You know how it goes: if only I could find an agent, then I’ll be happy. When you have an agent, then it becomes: if only I could get published, then I’ll be happy. And so on. The only way to stay sane in the business is to enjoy every step as you’re actually experiencing it. Happiness is not around the bend. It’s found in the present. Because writing is pretty great — otherwise why are you doing it?
  2. Maintain your integrity. With frustration comes temptation. It’s tempting to try and beat the system, whether that’s by having someone else write your query, lying to the people you work with, or, you know, concocting the occasional fake memoir. This may even work in the short term, but unless you are Satan incarnate (and I hope you’re not) it will steadily chip away at your happiness and confidence, and your heart will shrivel and blacken into something they show kids in health class to scare them away from smoking. Don’t do it.
  3. Recognize the forces that are outside of your control. While it’s tempting to think that it’s all your fault if your book doesn’t sell, or your agent’s fault or the industry’s fault or the fault of a public that just doesn’t recognize your genius, a lot of times it’s just luck not going your way. Chance is BIG in this business. Huge. Gambling has nothing on the incredibly delicate and complex calculus that results in a book taking off. Bow before the whims of fate, because chance is more powerful than you and your agent combined.
  4. Don’t neglect your friends and family. No book is worth losing a friend, losing a spouse, losing crucial time with your children. Hear me? NO book is worth it. Not one. Not a bestseller, not a passion project, nothing. Friends and family first. THEN writing. Writing is not an excuse to neglect your friends and family. Unless you don’t like them very much.
  5. Don’t Quit Your Day Job. Quitting a job you need to pay the bills in order to write a novel is like selling your house and putting the proceeds into a lottery ticket. You don’t have to quit your job to write. There is time in the day. You may have to sacrifice your relaxation time or sleep time or reality television habit, but there is time. You just have to do it.
  6. More? Click here…

The ‘Ten Commandments’ advice approach is popular. Here are three more lists from experts:

Ten Commandments from Richard Bausch

Henry Miller’s Ten Commandments of Writing

The 10 Commandments of Fiction Writing

More on being a writer:

8 Things Writers Can Do No One Else Can

15 Traits Critical to a Successful Writer

It’s OK to Fail Over and Over and Try Again

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Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is the author/editor of dozens of books on integrating tech into education, webmaster for six blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a columnist for Examiner.com and TeachHUB, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. 
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26 thoughts on “Writers Tip #85: Nathan Bransford’s 10 Commandments

  1. Pingback: Stephen King’s Ten Commandments of Writing « Jacqui Murray

  2. Pingback: Stephen King’s Ten Commandments of Writing | WordDreams...

  3. Great tips. I’m guilty of getting lost in my fantasy world, but it’s not Ryan I’m dreaming about – it’s all the fictional people I can’t get out of my head! I do, mostly, take time to come back down to earth, mainly because of my daughters who are a pleasure 🙂 It’s important advice – stay in the present as long as you can!

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  4. I hide from the query letter but I know that I’m the one who needs to write it. When I get to that point, I’m probably going to search for examples like crazy so that I can be me in the letter with confidence.

    Yes, I know someone who lied about their memoirs. Roseanne Barr. She grew up in Colorado where I did. At least that’s what is in her book. But for someone who has lived there, she sure doesn’t have the geography right.

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    • Definitely visit Janet Reid’s blog. She’s an agent who has a very active, helpful blog. She writes a lot about query letters.

      Not that it helped me. She still turned me down (no worry–I fond someone else).

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  5. 10 Commandments for a Happy Writer by Nathan Bransford
    Just ran into this fine list. This is great advice, and my favorite is point two:

    2. Maintain your integrity. With frustration comes temptation. It’s tempting to try and beat the system, whether that’s by having someone else write your query, lying to the people you work with, or, you know, concocting the occasional fake memoir. This may even work in the short term, but unless you are Satan incarnate (and I hope you’re not) it will steadily chip away at your happiness and confidence, and your heart will shrivel and blacken into something they show kids in health class to scare them away from smoking. Don’t do it.

    In essence: write you. Write what you write. Write who and what you are. Let the chips fall where they may. More solid advice I doubt you will ever find, ever.

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    • It’s easy to forget that many of us got into writing because it was fun. Not easy–but made us feel good. I’m at one of those low points so this helps to remind me that my perspective has become tilted.

      Like

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