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The Seven Rules of Writing

Writing.ie | Resources | Better Non-Fiction Guides | Getting Started in Non-Fiction

Rachel Fehily

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Barrister and author Rachel Fehily brings you a wry look at the essentials of writing – take note!

1. Domesticity is the Enemy

I write at home and it’s a disaster. I have a computer set up on a desk in the house and I pretend to myself that I can access it whenever I feel like it and fit in my writing around my legal work and child rearing duties.

Yeah right.

So I get up in the morning with the intention to write but before I get near the computer I can’t help but notice list of chores crying out for attention: the magical never ending pile of laundry, the permanently dirty dog bowl, an unemptied dishwasher and dust on the top of the doors (does anyone ever clean the top of their doors?).

Then the phone rings and the dog whines and demands a walk.

If I do decide to try and sneak in a bit of writing when the kids are around you can bet they’ll want to start using the computer as soon as I sit down. Big dilemma – which is more important, their homework or my magnum opus? No contest really.

Domesticity kills writing.  To write successfully you must go somewhere very far away and assiduously learn to ignore household tasks.

You must be logical about your priorities – be selfish and remember, you will get a lot more kudos at dinner parties for your recently published book than a clean, organized house.

Find a local library, an empty office or a room in a friend’s house, close the door, and forget about the mess at home.

I don’t know how J K Rowling wrote in a café, I suspect that if you tried that in Ireland you’d have lots of nosey strangers looking over your shoulder and giving you help.

2. Horizontal Writing is Dangerous

If you’ve taken my advice about not writing at home you don’t need to read this.

I wrote my huge unpublished first novel in bed. I thought it would be comfortable and an alternative to watching TV (which I do in bed).

At first it was great. I got lots of writing done at night and it was warm and dry. I even did some early morning writing in bed with the electric blanket on and saved on house heating bills.  The lack of television cheered me up as I missed all the usual gloomy news and current affairs.

Unfortunately all the money I saved on heating had to be spent on osteopathy and anti-inflammatories for my neck.

I now write sensibly, sitting down in front of an eye level computer in a proper chair. I throw in the odd yoga stretch if I think of it.

3. Be Confident About Your Deadline

I cannot work without a deadline. It’s like school exams. If you didn’t know you had to do your exam on a certain date you would never, ever study.

So for writing projects I self impose an unrealistic deadline.

Confidently tell yourself, your agent or publisher that you will have a certain number of chapters or a full script ready on a particular date and work towards that date.

You will be amazed how satisfied you will feel (and your agent will be), if you get your first draft (even almost) finished by that date.

4. Set Yourself Realistic Goals:

I imagine myself lying on a gilt sofa (with a comfortable neck support) dictating to my secretary a la *Barbara Cartland and producing 2,000 words a day and finishing my novel in 50 days.

Actually I can’t. But thinking that you can is better than accepting your limitations. If you can write 2,000 words a week your novel will take you a year. If you give up housework, money making activities, socializing and send your children abroad it might take six months…setting yourself an achievable daily writing goal will enable you to exceed expectations – and all of a sudden that finished book becomes a very real possibility.

Set yourself goals

*In 1983 Barbara wrote 23 novels and holds the Guinness World record for the most novels written in a single year.

5. Build Up the Guilt

Sometimes I get fed up and don’t feel like writing, nothing comes to mind, my ideas, grammar and sentences sound awful and I feel like giving up.

At this stage the best thing to do is to give up and walk away from your desk and do something different. Go out and enjoy yourself, have a long lunch with your friends, bring your children somewhere fun for the day, neglect your book and reengage with the world.

After a few days of you will be desperate get back to your desk, the ideas will be bubbling up trying to escape and can get stuck in with renewed purpose.

6. Force Yourself When You Don’t Feel Like It

Unlike many writers who write because they cannot stop – writing isn’t something I naturally feel like doing. But even natural writers have off days – we are all averse to doing certain of things: Jumping into cold seawater, flying on planes, meeting new people and childbirth hold little attraction if you stop and think about them.

If this is the case for you, you have to think about what you might miss! Swimming in the west of Ireland (cold), holidays (get over your fear of flying), finding the love of your life (meet those new people) and finding the true love of your life via childbirth (epidurals work).

You need to make a mental leap when you sit down in front of a blank screen and start to write. Don’t expect it to be easy but trust that you will be able to write something. The first draft may not be brilliant but it’s yours.

7. Never Apologise, Never Explain

Just because your writing isn’t making you any cash it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take pride in it as an activity. Don’t leave it last on your list or you’ll never write your book.

Think of all the things you do that are unpaid and a complete waste of time: Flower arranging, long baths, tag rugby and daytime TV.  Your paid work is only part of the rich fabric of your life.

Put the time aside and tell everyone to leave you alone. Don’t let them distract you. You’re writing.

So be proud and write on.

About the author

© Rachel Fehily for writing.ie

Rachel Fehily was born in Dublin and is a graduate of Trinity College Dublin, The Kings Inns and University College Dublin. She has practised as a Barrister and a Mediator and is particularly interested in conflict resolution.

She has represented defendants before juries in criminal cases, victims of sexual abuse, litigants in medical negligence, defamation, family law and commercial cases. She has contributed articles to The Irish Times, The Sunday Business Post and Image Magazine.

Her first book “Break Up, Don’t Crack Up: A Practical Guide to Dealing with the End of your Marriage or Relationship” is due for publication by Blackhall Publishing in January 2012. Her website is http://www.familylawmediator.ie/ She is currently working on a novel and a self-help book for an international readership.

  • The Dark Room: A thrilling new novel from the number one Irish Times bestselling author of Keep Your Eyes on Me
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