Rules for Writers – rule number three: the Contract
Rule Number Three of There Are No Rules for writers is this: if you want to write, then you need to draw up a contract with yourself to make the writing happen.
It is sad but true that if you don’t show up at your desk – whatever you conceive that ‘desk’ to be – no words will get written. ‘I’m going to…’ ‘I must…’ ‘When I have the time, I’ll….’ ‘I’ve got this great idea…’ simply won’t cut it.
The crucial beginnings of the writing process involve putting words down on paper. To do this, you have to set aside time dedicated to writing. To writing alone – not to visiting Facebook or Twitter, not to checking emails or ‘researching’ on the Net, not to sending text messages.
On your own. In a room. With your thoughts.
Starts and fears
That’s for starters. You may well find after a while that you write better with others around you, with music playing, with feeling that you are part of the comings and goings of everyday life. Fine. That’s for afterwards.
But you have to start somewhere, and experience tells me that that ‘somewhere’, at least at first, needs to be a solitary space, a peaceful one, where you can confront the blank page or screen for the first time and feel the fear.
Feel the fear and do it anyway.
Experience has also taught me that, when you’re starting, carving out a routine for writing is a helpful way to go.
That’s where the Contract comes in. Written or not, the Contract is an agreement with yourself that you will spend so many hours (count them) on so many days (name them) each week, every week, in order to put words on the page.
If you’re serious about writing, you’ll turn up. If you’re not, you won’t.
I’ve had aspiring writers argue this point with me. It’s hard to find the time, they say, and that kind of Contract is, well, not really in the creative or artistic spirit, is it? Why don’t we call it a date instead?
Well, you can if you like – but I don’t think any of us would be rushing back for a second date if the first one had been a bit of a disaster, would we?
We’d say ‘No thanks’ and move swiftly along. With the Contract, though, you’ve committed to do something. And if the first time isn’t all that you’d wish for, then maybe the second, or the third time will show some progress, no matter how slow.
Because when you keep turning up, the writing begins to happen.
I read something recently that Doris Lessing said. I’m paraphrasing, but she insisted that if you really feel you are meant to do something, then do it now: because conditions will always be impossible.
So stop waiting around for the perfect time to start your poem/novel/story/memoir/play. The perfect time is now, right now.
It’s also useful at this early stage to remember to ban your Internal Critic: to make it stand outside the door, preferably in the cold with no food or water.
The Internal Critic has no place in your head or by your side: that poisonous little voice that tells you what you have written is no good, that you are no good, and who do you think you are, anyway, wanting to become a writer?
The years have taught me that the Internal Critic cannot be killed – but it has to be banished so that early drafts can be written in peace with all their faults and messes and imperfections.
Because that is the nature of first drafts.
And all writing is rewriting.
Let me know how you get on – your feedback is welcome.
- Catherine Dunne’s Rules for Writers
- Be a reader
- Don’t wait for inspiration
- The contract
- Feed your imagination
- Finding the plot
- Show, don’t tell
- Keep a notebook
- All writing is rewriting
- Watch, Listen, Observe
- Passion. Persistence. Patience. Professionalism
Photograph: Noel Hillis