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BY MARY J. NICKUM
Are there basic rules for all writers? I’ve been asked that question many times. There are books written to help writers write. Some are better than others. “The Chicago Manual of Style” and “A Handbook for Scholars” are invaluable resources. Others are grammar books, which are useful but don’t get to the nitty gritty of what is really required of a writer who wants to make a living writing. The following rules are made by writers for writers and are meant to be encouraging as well as instructive.
RULE NO. 1: DETERMINATION
Determination is the quality of being determined to do or achieve something; resoluteness. You must first make a decision to write. This sounds simple enough. Most writers have made that decision. But, there is more to it than just deciding to write. What to write, and how, are next. The decision of what to write is based partially on your knowledge. Most writers who are knowledgeable about fishing will be unwilling to tackle an article about the development of cancer tumors. Determination must be tempered by knowledge. The often repeated writer’s adage, “write what you know,” is applicable here.
Resoluteness, however, is a useful word when discussing determination. To make your resolve tangible, set goals. These points will assist you in your goal-setting exercise:
- Be specific about what you want to achieve. Instead of saying “I want to finish an article by fall,” state “My article, ‘Fishing in the Arctic,’ will be completed by Oct. 1, including all editing and photography.”
- Break this goal into smaller chunks — baby steps of about 500 words per day. Be sure to schedule work with photographs concurrently.
Not taking this step leaves you wide open to missing your deadline. Giving yourself an achievable goal means you are more likely to reach it. The results must be measurable, otherwise how do you know you’ve achieved what you set out to do?
- Is the goal attainable? Don’t set your sights too high. Always work within your own abilities, otherwise you will become disheartened. Keeping ahead of your goal allows for all those “life situations” you may, and probably will, encounter.
- Always give yourself an end date. This gives you a specific timeframe in which to work.
If you are resolved to write a quality piece, which most writers are, you have observed the first rule for writing. Your written goals will provide you with a roadmap for the next rule.
RULE NO. 2: DISCIPLINE
The second rule is harder than you think. Writing requires discipline. Most writers’ advisors say “write something everyday.” It doesn’t have to be submission quality. Writing a letter to your son or daughter away at college, writing in a blog or writing ideas for future stories all count for this task. The main idea here is to cultivate a regimen for daily work. Make time to write. This can be difficult if you have a full-time job that is not writing related. If evenings and weekends are the only available time, other family commitments must be taken into account. Look to writers’ blogs to exchange ideas as to how other writers have accomplished this seemingly insurmountable feat.
Writer’s block is a well known malady for writers. If you just can’t get to the next paragraph or sentence, take a break. If that doesn’t help, listen to your favorite music or change writing venues. Try a coffee shop or a library. Having resources close at hand might help, too.
RULE NO. 3: FOCUS
A writer must focus. If you jump from one topic of interest to another several times when writing a story, the outcome will appear jumbled and without direction. The same is true if you attempt to write while personal issues are distracting you. No writer can do her piece justice when struggling with unrelated issues.
Here are three questions to answer to help you focus:
- Who is the intended audience of my piece?
- What is the single most important point of my piece?
- If the reader thought about my piece one week after reading it, what would their dominant recollection be?
After deciding to write, you must decide what to write and then set a writing schedule for yourself. Make sure your goals are attainable. Writing takes discipline. You should write something every day. If you have a chosen topic and a deadline goal, work toward that goal. If there are days when you can’t work on your piece, write something anyway. When setting out to write, be sure you can focus on the job. Don’t let yourself be distracted by outside events or demands. Scheduling and adhering to that schedule will help you to produce a piece within the designated timeframe. Determination, discipline and focus will give you tools to produce a quality piece. ♦
—A member since 2000, Mary J. Nickum is from Fountain Hills, Ariz. She is edior of World Aquaculture. Nickum writes for Northern Aquaculture, Hatchery International magazine, Fish Farming News, and Aquaculture North America. She also writes stories for children and is author of “Mom’s Story: A Child Learns about MS.” Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org, www.marynickum.com.