11 Rules for Better Writing / by Jared Jones

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  1. Know the difference between a topic and a story, which is this: A topic sits still, and a story moves. A topic is an answer, while a story asks a question that connects to the reader’s heart and mind. For example, I got fired from my job yesterday is a topic. I got fired from my job yesterday and this morning I began planning my revenge — that is a story.
  2. Don’t fly solo. Find the best writers who’ve written in this vein and study them like a detective. Figure out how they attacked the problem. They are your coaches.
  3. Figure out what your subjects/characters want — what they really, truly, deeply want — put it up top, and and let that question — will they get it? –  fuel your narrative.
  4. Inside the narrative, obstacles are your friend. The bigger the obstacle, the better the story.
  5. Seek out opposites. For example, if you were describing something rough and crude, you should use images of elegance and refinement (i.e. “the abandoned Chevrolet was a lacework of rust”). Or, if a 330-pound defensive lineman enters a room, focus on how delicately and balletically he walks. Sentences are like batteries: opposites create energy.
  6. Outline like crazy, and revise those outlines constantly. I use two kinds of outlines: big and small. The big outline is for the entire narrative arc; the smaller outline is for each chapter. Like construction blueprints, outlines sound dull, but in fact are the opposite: the place where the most important creative moves happen.
  7. Figure on a 10:1 efficiency ratio — that is, 10 pages of rough drafts and notes for every one page of quality writing. Which you’ll have to revise over and over again, of course.
  8. Read like a thief. Underline good stuff, and read it over and over again until you figure out how they did that. When you find a passage, image, or description you love, write it down on a card and keep all those cards in one place.
  9. Ignore small criticism.
  10. Listen intently to big criticism. If someone doesn’t “get” your writing, it’s not their fault. It’s yours.
  11. If you get stuck, get busy. Revisit outlines. Seek out new material. Keep plugging until something clicks. “Imagination” is overrated; creativity comes from making fresh connections.
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