Michille: Grisham’s Do’s and Don’ts

John Grisham Ryan Pfluger NYT

John Grisham on productivity: “Nothing will happen until you are producing at least one page per day.” Credit Ryan Pfluger for The New York Times

I read the New York Times every day. Well, not the whole thing, but I scan the home page and find enough articles that catch my interest to keep me on the site for a while. I’m not sure how I missed this gem from May 2017. John Grisham’s Do’s and Don’ts for Writing Popular Fiction. Some we’ve all heard/read before. Some are new to me. Even with the list, JG gives the caveat, “All suggestions can be ignored when necessary. I do it all the time.” Many writers do. But for those of us who aren’t multi-best-selling authors, it’s good to review every now and then.

Here they are:
1. DO — WRITE A PAGE EVERY DAY

That’s about 200 words, or 1,000 words a week. Do that for two years and you’ll have a novel that’s long enough. Nothing will happen until you are producing at least one page per day.

2. DON’T — WRITE THE FIRST SCENE UNTIL YOU KNOW THE LAST

This necessitates the use of a dreaded device commonly called an outline. Virtually all writers hate that word. I have yet to meet one who admits to using an outline. Plotting takes careful planning. Writers waste years pursuing stories that eventually don’t work.

3. DO — WRITE YOUR ONE PAGE EACH DAY AT THE SAME PLACE AND TIME

Early morning, lunch break, on the train, late at night — it doesn’t matter. Find the extra hour, go to the same place, shut the door. No exceptions, no excuses.

4. DON’T — WRITE A PROLOGUE

Prologues are usually gimmicks to hook the reader. Avoid them. Plan your story (see No. 2) and start with Chapter 1.

5. DO — USE QUOTATION MARKS WITH DIALOGUE

Please do this. It’s rather basic.

6. DON’T — KEEP A THESAURUS WITHIN REACHING DISTANCE

I know, I know, there’s one at your fingertips. There are three types of words: (1) words we know; (2) words we should know; (3) words nobody knows. Forget those in the third category and use restraint with those in the second. A common mistake by fledgling authors is using jaw-breaking vocabulary. It’s frustrating and phony.

7. DO — READ EACH SENTENCE AT LEAST THREE TIMES IN SEARCH OF WORDS TO CUT

Most writers use too many words, and why not? We have unlimited space and few constraints.

8. DON’T — INTRODUCE 20 CHARACTERS IN THE FIRST CHAPTER

Another rookie mistake. Your readers are eager to get started. Don’t bombard them with a barrage of names from four generations of the same family. Five names are enough to get started.

I don’t follow #2, which means I do write the first scene without knowing the last, except for the HEA part. And I don’t follow #6, which means I do use a thesaurus, partially because I’m old and don’t remember things and partially because sometimes, I just know there’s a better word for _______.

How many of these do you follow? Or don’t?

5 thoughts on “Michille: Grisham’s Do’s and Don’ts

  1. I basically follow all of these rules, which just shows you that it takes more than rules to make a financially successful author. 🙂 The rule that made me laugh is the one about reading each sentence three times, looking for words to cut. Only three? Grisham must write more succinctly than I do right out of the box. I bet I read every sentence at least 50 times before I’m done with the book. At LEAST. I’ve read some of my sentences 50 times already, and I’m only on chapter 6 of the WIP.

    These are good rules, though, and not hard to follow. A good reminder of what it’s all about!

  2. It’s a good thing this isn’t a quiz for a grade. I’d fail for sure. #5 and #8 are the only “rules” I tend to follow. The rest? Not so much.

  3. LOL, #8 is one of my failings (out of many). I am always tempted to introduce a cast of thousands.

    I do think a lot of these things apply to The Final Draft, but if you are the type of writer who writes to discover, then they don’t. The terrible thing about writing to discover is throwing away all the words when you finally know what the story is.

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