Octavia Butler’s Rules on Writing

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Yesterday, I posted reviews of two books by Octavia Butler, and today I’m following them with highlights from one of the essays included in Bloodchild and Other Stories. I thought these highlights deserved their own post.

The essay “Furor Scribendi” (“mania for writing,” according to Merriam Webster) includes Ms. Butler’s rules for writing, and she encourages writers to make them into habits in your life. In each item, the rule is taken word for word from Ms. Butler’s essay, then I’m offering a condensed explanation of each item in my words.

  1. Read. Inhale fiction and non-fiction, read books in the genre you’re writing, read books that discuss writing. And that doesn’t have to be old-fashioned reading: audio books are good ways to experience books, and you get the benefit of hearing the sound of language.
  2. “Take classes and go to writers’ workshops.” These provide feedback on your stories — readers who can tell you what works and what doesn’t work in the stories, before you send them out into the world.
  3. Write. Set aside time in your schedule to write every day. If you’re stuck with your work in progress, shift to journal writing. Setting down your thoughts could inspire ideas for later stories.
  4. “Revise your writing until it’s as good as you can make it.” Check the writing and research. Fix the flaws you find.
  5. “Submit your work for publication.” Check out the markets and submit your stories to the ones that interest you. Yes, this can be scary. And yes, rejections will hurt. Every writer experiences them. You can learn from rejected work, and you could use it in a new project — even sections of those old pieces.
  6. “Some potential impediments for you to forget … first forget inspiration. Habit is more dependable. Habit will sustain you whether you’re inspired or not … Forget talent. … continued learning is more dependable than talent… finally, don’t worry about imagination.”

Especially with imagination, I liked Ms. Butler’s words so much I want to put more emphasis on her advice:

“Play with your ideas. Have fun with them. Don’t worry about being silly or outrageous or wrong. So much of writing is fun. It’s first letting your interests and imagination take you anywhere at all. Once you’re able to do that, you’ll have more ideas than you can use.” — Octavia Butler

I’m drawn to this kind of advice. I’ve posted about it from Shel Silverstein (“Put Something In”) and Felicia Day (Embrace Your Weird). I believe the reason I’m drawn to them is that they serve as reminders to me. Be serious about crafting stories, but don’t forget to have fun along the way. And hopefully, these words will be helpful to other writers out there.

All the quotes in this post are from: Octavia E. Butler, Bloodchild and Other Stories, Seven Stories Press (New York: 2005), pages 139-142.

9 thoughts on “Octavia Butler’s Rules on Writing

  1. Hi Dave, These are some great tips. One other tip that I just heard this morning that I like was “Write messy first drafts”. The recommendation was to write using a pen and paper instead of a computer so you get the ideas out and don’t try to edit your writing along the way. The thought was that when you try to write a perfect first draft, you lose the creativity and the potential evolution of your idea. Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for adding another tip! That’s a really good suggestion. Unfortunately, my inner editor will often speak up while I write first drafts. I try to calm that voice, and I can see how writing with a pen instead of computer would help to quiet it.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree… you can share your stories on a blog, which opens the chance for criticism, but it can be scarier to send your stories to “gatekeepers” who read them with a different motivation.


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