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This link Ten Rules for Writing has been circulating around my f-list for quite sometime. It's a collection of writing "rules" from various authors.

I almost didn't click the link because the idea of writing rules is something I despise absolutely. But I did.



There is one law in writing and one law alone: WRITE. Anything else is just a suggestion. There is not a right and wrong answer in writing. There are successful tactics and unsuccessful tactics. There are things that work and things that do not. There are some things which are shown to be 99% ineffective, but that still leaves a 1% when some brilliant or lucky soul pulls it off with style and aplomb. Whether you think you're in the 1% or 99% is up to you, because you'll be the one facing the consequences either way.

But there are NO rules. And there never should be.

However, the lists themselves, if you re-title them in your head "10 Pithy Things Writers Have To Say About Their Craft", it's not a bad article and it's a good jumping off place. Some suggestions and pithy statements I agree with.

One thing I saw a repeat of on the list was the "write what you want, don't worry about what's popular or marketable" piece of advice. And I'm of two minds about it.

One part of me says that a writer should keep some eye on the market. Because it can be useful to take advantage of trends, and it can be useful to know when a market is just completely oversaturated with something.

Another part says, that you have to write what you're going to write. What you want to write. What beacons you to the keyboard day after day. There's a damn good reason we have agents and publishers. If it were the writer's job to worry about every aspect of marketing, then we wouldn't need them. And we do need them.

I suppose this also stems from a small bone I have to pick with a few agents who's blogs I read (or have read in the past). And please note that, it's a small bone. Most agents are such lovely people and wonderful bloggers and otherwise I have no quarrels with them and think they're important to listen to. However...

I cannot, cannot, cannot stand it when an agent gripes about seeing "too much" of something across their desk. Why? Because it is a useless complaint, especially for the individual writer who is reading that post or that tweet. Telling me what is and isn't popular right now doesn't help me. Writing is a slow game, and it takes months and months (sometimes years) to get a book from my final draft to a product on a shelf. I can't know what will be selling well in 5 months or 5 years. I can only write what I'll write, do it the best I can, and rely on the people I work with to market and distribute it well so it has a chance of selling.

For instance, one agent complained about seeing too much YA set in a certain time period, and I thought, "What the hell do you want the writers to do about that?"

Because:

a) that's your personal complaint. Another agent may say, "I haven't gotten any of those books!" When thousands of people are sending you thousands of queries per week, you're going to spot weird, coincidental trends that make no sense and are really just random.

b) Do you think we writers all get together and say, "We're all going to write a YA set in Victorian England and send it to this agent!"

c) I, the individual writer, cannot control or even know what everyone else is doing. I don't know what other submissions agents are getting. I cannot worry that 50 or 100 other people are writing what I'm writing at the same time. If I did that, I'd sit paralyzed at my keyboard and get nothing done.

d) If I have a manuscript that you describe as being something you've seen too much of, the only feasible option is just to not send it to you (if I haven't already). Because tearing up a manuscript, abandoning an idea, or completely gutting a setting and storyline because an agent gripes on Twitter would also render a writer unable function.

e) If I don't have such a manuscript or idea in the works, such complaints make me feel as though you're holding writers responsible for each other. As if you're saying, "Okay, you guys get together and decide which one of you gets to write the Victorian YA and which gets to write the modern-day YA. I don't care who, but I don't want to see more than five of each on my desk."

f) There are no new, original, or unique ideas. There are new twists, original styles, unique executions. But there really are only about 25 different plots, and, actually, if you boil it down there are the Classic Three/Four (Person vs. Themselves, Person vs. Other Person, Person vs. Nature, Person vs. People's Works). If I tried to write those idea which had never been written before, I'd just be mailing you reams of blank paper.

g) You've already been sent those many Victorian YA submissions. It's done. The writers who submitted cannot magically make their emails or query letters evaporate.

h) I do not expect agents to go out of their way or trouble themselves to do things simply to make the writer's life easier or happier or more interesting (within reason). I don't expect them to work sunup to sundown just so we get responses quicker. I don't expect them to miss their children's birthday parties or Thanksgiving dinner to read manuscripts. I don't expect them to give detailed feedback on each rejection just because it would be really nice. I don't even expect them to send form letters anymore, not when they have 1000 other queries and ten contracts waiting and twenty checks for their authors that need sending out and three meetings with editors and a bunch of client manuscripts that need to make the rounds all the other many, many things agents do in their busy days.

Agents have to and should act in the interest of agents, in making their businesses as efficient, profitable, and sustainable as possible. They should not sacrifice what works for them just to make writers happy, especially querying writers. They just CAN NOT do it. It would, from what I understand of agenting, make their lives impossible and drive them out of business. If not drive them out of sanity as well.

Listen to this well, my fellow writers. Agents have to do things to make their professional lives functional. You may get shorted, shafted, rejected, neglected, detected, inspected, injected, and dejected because of this. You will have to put up with no-response rejections or form letters. You will have to accept that if an agent rejected you, their reason was valid and they are not required to justify or explain it. No is no. You will have to accept that even if worked really hard and just want clue as to why, that is not the agent's problem. They can't worry about whether you like or even understand it. Your feelings are not their responsibility.

But I hope that agents understand writers must follow the same philosophy (within reason). Especially unpublished, querying writers who have no guarantee of anything. We're not even guaranteed a form rejection anymore. I have to submit as widely as I can, I have to sometimes submit to agents who might not like or want my manuscript (again, within reason) if I think their submissions guidelines or their client lists indicate that I might have even a 5% chance. I cannot write what the agent wants, I have to write what I want and hope the agent likes it anyway.

Yes, I even (sometimes) have to repeat submissions to you if I think there's a chance that you didn't reject me because you didn't get the mail. To be fair, I've only done this three times in the entire time I've queried. And if you're one of those agents, sorry about that. Sorry if it added to your overflowing inbox.

But I can't worry or even care about about your inbox load, okay? Blog about it by all means, blog about your busy lives and hectic schedules. Vent your frustrations, open your lives to the outside. I think that's fantastic. But I caution against expecting that it will (or even should) evoke sympathy in writers.

I can't worry whether you're overworked, overloaded, burned out. I can't worry about whether you're having fun at your job. I can't worry about what personal quirks you may or may not have (some agents complain about courier new vs. times new roman or not liking italics in a manuscript or seeing too much steampunk). I can't worry about what other people send you.

I can follow your stated guidelines to the letter, I can make sure my manuscript is the best, most polished version possible, I can research you and your client list to make sure you're the right kind of agent, I can write the most fantastic query/synopsis I'm capable of and check it many times before sending it. I can treat you with respect and understanding, even when getting a rejection or just a lack of response. I can take no for an answer and move on.

If you, otherwise awesome agent of awesomeness, should feel like you're drowning in pirate books or romances about men in kilts or literary novels about drug-dealing college students - that's not my problem. I can't help you and I can't worry about it. I have to write the Pirate Book that's in my head. Even if it adds one more to your load. Sorry. If you're that upset, change your query guidelines to say "No more pirate books until further notice" and I'll make sure NOT to send you the Pirate Book.

Were I to spend all day researching and combing through Twitter and LiveJournal and Blogspot for every thing an agent ever said they didn't like? I'd spend all day researching and write nothing.

And since the only rule in writing is "WRITE", I have to let your likes and dislikes be your own problem.

I have to write what I'm writing to the best of my ability. It is the only power I possess, it is my part in this grand dance of agents and editors and marketing and books and shelves and sales. I can't worry about your steps, I have to focus on my own. We may step on each other's toes or trip or get out of sync. That's the risk when dancing with other people.

The hope is, however, that if everyone does their steps well and with plenty of mutual respect going on, we can boogie down and put some great stories out there in the world.

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