Rules from Chris: Writerly Rule #2

Welcome back, writers and readers. I hope you all have had an opportunity to try out my first Writerly Rule. More than that, I hope it’s been working for you. Now that you’ve had some time to get into your writing groove, I wanted to offer my next twist on the advise writers will give you.  

If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time — or the tools — to write. Simple as that.
—Stephen King

Rule #2: Read A Lot

When I teach English Composition—before we ever discuss the writing process—I start the semester with a section on reading. There is a simple reason for that. Reading is the reason why writers write. Without a reader, even if it is only meant to be you, writing has no purpose. That’s why my second rule is read a lot. But, what would I tweak about this rule?

Writerly Rule #2: Read intelligently a lot.

What does that mean? Several things. First, don’t choose random narratives to read because they are in front of you. Understand why you picked up the story in the first place. Whatever your reason, make sure you are reading purposefully.  That leads to the second aspect of intelligent reading.

Read with purpose. Hopefully, you’ve chosen to read a piece because it resides in the same genre in which you are currently writing or want to be writing. Perhaps the author has emerged in the literary world and you want to explore first hand what their style is. Plot, setting, character development. Cadence and pacing. Any of the aspects of the story you want to strengthen, read to see how the author does it.

Third, don’t waste your time once you’ve collected what you need from that author. It is perfectly alright if you don’t finish a novel—or a short story for that matter. To gauge and understand a certain element of writing doesn’t require a completed piece. Sometimes it does. Either way, when you have what you came for, move on.

Finally, as I tell my freshmen students, reading intelligently should include note-taking. Whether it is physical or mental, pay attention and read closely. Take notes. Your writer’s toolbox will be more equipped because you did.

Craig: From Three Sides Now

It was over twenty years ago when I received my first acceptance letter for a short story. It was the mid-nineties, when email was still a dangerous new territory, and acceptance (and rejection) letters still came on actual paper, in honest-to-goodness self-addressed envelopes.  My husband called me at my day job, a department store portrait studio in Detroit, to tell me that the letter had arrived. I made him open it and read it to me over the phone, ignoring the two children in their matching back-to-school corduroys who were still flashing toothy grins at my camera a few feet away.  When I got home that evening, I considered framing the letter, but settled on sliding it into a plastic sleeve in a binder that I could pull off the shelve from time to time, to remind myself that I was a “real” writer now.

As a reader, I thought about writing as something intangible, a literary magic that revealed itself only in fleeting flashes of inspiration.  But, as I sent out more pieces and embraced the hard work of revision, my perspective shifted. Like Joni Mitchell and her clouds, I was looking at stories from both sides now.  The more I wrote, the more I appreciated the craft at work in the pieces that I read. And, the more I read, the stronger my own writing became. It wasn’t until years later that I developed a third view, that of an editor.  First as a writing coach, and then a journal editor, I found that editing pieces expanded my appreciation of the writing process. My experiences on the other side of those acceptance and rejection letters informed how I approached reading and evaluating stories.

I may look at stories as a reader, a writer, and an editor, but I’ve come to believe that are more than three sides to this work.  Every piece I encounter has the potential to teach me something new, to inform my overlapping literary views in unexpected ways. That’s why I am so excited to be part of the Rule of Three Review, to collaborate with co-editors who are also friends and fellow writers, and who also embrace the beauty and the tension of our different perspectives.  Mostly, I’m excited to have the opportunity to be part of moments like that one I experienced so many years ago in Detroit. I hope that you’ll share your work with us, and continue to expand the way that we view stories.

Rules from Chris: Writerly Rule #1

Welcome fellow writers and readers to my (Chris’s) first post on the Rule of Three Blog. I wanted to start by passing along some tips I’ve learned in my experience in the literary world and with writing in general. On your journey to create captivating characters, sophisticated settings, and powerful plots, there are going to be plenty of people like me who want to offer advice on how to make that adventure as successful and fulfilling as possible. As you listen to their advice on the craft, you’ll come to realize that a lot of it sounds pretty damn repetitive.

The truth of the matter is there isn’t a secret recipe out there that is going to make you a better writer. The masters of the craft will attest to this. But there are habits—or rules to live by—you can replicate to help you become better. Writerly rules, if you will. Let’s get started…

“It’s none of their business that you have to learn to write. Let them think you were born that way.”
—Ernest Hemingway

Rule #1: Write Every Day

This might be the most obvious rule. It coincides with all of those little slogans that our parents told us about how “practice makes perfect” when we were growing up. They weren’t wrong. Ask any professional—and the scientists who’ve studied how those professionals became professionals—and they’ll tell you that it all boils down to practice. Long hours, repetitive motions, and true dedication. However, there is something that those professionals don’t emphasize:

Writerly Rule #1: Write first every day.

Yes, it’s that simple. Write first. Maybe not before coffee, but definitely before you put any of your world-building powers towards a task. If it can’t be absolutely first, for the love of all that is holy make sure you write before your artistic energy is gone. Our creativity has a finite source throughout one day. It’s sacred and valuable and you should treat it as such. If you don’t believe me, I’m calling bullshit. You and I both know you’ve come to a point in a day when you’ve planted your butt on the couch, kicked your feet up, and watched Netflix for hours because your mind couldn’t produce a sentence even if you had access to a self-typing telepathic keyboard. Your “creative well” was sucked dry and only sleep or binge-watching Break Bad would refill your depleted stores.

So, stop putting your energy into something that isn’t your writing first. Writing demands and deserves that best creative effort you can give it.

Welcome to our Rule of Three Review

The number three has always been magical in literature.  In Greek mythology, Cronus and Rhea have three sons and three daughters. In the Brothers Grimm, Rumpelstiltskin gives the queen three tries to guess his name. In Dickens, Scrooge meets three ghosts. We could keep going, but you get the idea.

But the number three has a more structural importance to storytelling than the children of gods, an imp’s bargain, and a miser’s paranormal reckoning. Every story needs a beginning, a middle, and an end—-three parts that make a whole. Elements within the narrative may change, but not these mainstays.

Craig, Chris, and Nick are three editors with three unique takes on storytelling. We started Rule of Three Review to pay homage to this magical number and share our love of story. And you’re a vital part of this adventure. We’re accepting submissions in January and February, and we will publish our inaugural issue in April 2019.

Yes, there are three editors. Yes, we plan on publishing three times a year. Yes, our logo is a three-headed dog. But when it comes to the stories we publish, the only aspect of the rule of three that we’ll impose is the need for a beginning, a middle, and an end.

Welcome to our Rule of Three Review.