Each of us writes in our own way, in our own time, and for our own reasons. Over time we establish our own truths; our own mandates, if you will. These tend to boil down to just a few basic rules, if we scrutinize them long enough. And they are often universal.
I’ll share mine with you.
1. The first (and most difficult) for me is patience. Within that realm I include the willpower to put my work aside and look at it again much later with fresh eyes. Do I still like it as much as when I wrote it? It includes the patience not to write until I am ready; to let the story line or situation mull about in my head for a day or two or three before I commit to paper.
2. I write for myself. As my Amazon reviews accumulate, I see a variety of preferences, some strongly stated. I hear the thoughts of relatives and friends. I read the advice of Stephen King and T.C. Boyle. I listen. And then I look deep inside for the answer: what do I really want to write and how do I really want to write it? What will give me the most satisfaction? Only when I’ve honestly discerned the answer to these questions do I commit to paper.
3. Quality comes first. Ultimately the work I publish must satisfy my own highest standards. I put aside my work (see patience) and then I read it as if someone else wrote it, with the same critical eye. If I can find fault, I try to improve it.
4. Focus on one thing at a time. My fourth rule reflects a personal weakness, which is to involve myself in multiple projects at the same time. Stephen King writes that he works on one book at a time, from start to finish, and that book will engage him fully during his sanctified writing times. I began that way, but have let this rule slide since then and I regret it. When a single novel is on my mind, all my thoughts are occupied with that story and those characters, consciously and unconsciously, and that results in deeper characterizations and more layers to my plots. I live the novel, and that brings it fully to life.
I have other rules that direct my writing, consciously or not, but most grow out one of the above guidelines. I will probably evolve others as I learn my craft and improve. But I doubt I will ever relinquish these four.