Grey Harlowe’s Top Five rules for writing.

This list is ever evolving. I’ve only been writing prose seriously for a decade, unlike those poems I’ve been churning out for thirty years. I have a few rules, though, which I will share for anyone curious.

1. The Five Paragraph rule. I’ve found that it’s harder to abandon a story completely if I’ve sat with it long enough to put down at least five paragraphs. Sometimes four paragraphs is enough, but five is a more reliable number. After that, no matter what pulls me away, I’ll have made enough of a mental investment in the story that it will usually pull me back in eventually.

2. Write the first draft outside, or away from my computer, whenever possible. Yes, I know that for those of you who don’t have outside space, or who never leave your laptop or tablet to save your life, this one sounds hard to imagine. For some reason, I do my best thinking out of doors now, or at least, away from my tiny desk here. Keyboard work is for revision, final draft, submission. The initial work goes better in environments without walls (or the expected ones.)

3. Shut the door to whatever room I’m in. This one was critical to my decision to commit to my writing several years ago. To demonstrate (to myself) that I valued my writing enough to prioritize my focus on it, I had to start closing the door during writing sessions. Worked like a charm.

4. Begin today’s work with a bit of yesterday’s work. I like to keep myself anchored in writing by making sure I’m immersed in the whole of the text whenever possible. Especially if I’ve been away from a piece for a while. Helps keep the writing from emerging in scattered, disconnected blocks, and helps keep me from feeling distant or disconnected from it.

5. Stick the ending. No piece of writing is ‘done’ until the ending works. Ever since I embraced this philosophy, it helped me develop enough enthusiasm for the art of bringing the ending together that I no longer fear writing endings. I’ve also stopped sending out work that isn’t ‘ready,’ as I don’t submit anything without an ending I’m truly satisfied with.


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