Standard Operating Procedures for Writers

The army was always big on Standard Operating Procedures (SOP).  Sometimes they were long, convoluted lists, and other times they made no sense at all.  Like requiring a soldier who lived in the barracks to not have a magazine sitting on a desk.  It had to be somewhere else.  But sometimes SOPs make sense.

Bob Meyer’s blog The Business and Standing Operating Procedures of being this Author reminded of the good SOPs can do when they make sense.  He notes:

I’ve always said there are no rules in writing.  I still believe that.  But I do believe an author needs their own set rules.  I call them Standing Operating Procedures.  We were big on those in Special Forces.  They kept us from doing stupid things, helped us not reinvent the wheel constantly, and allowed us to act quickly and decisively when needed.  In essence they could save your life.

This got me thinking about what my SOP would be:

Simplify.  I like plot-driven stories, but I’ve found consistently that I can keep adding more plot until the story gets overcomplicated.  I’ve been wrestling with structure over the last week, and the magic word hit me: “Simplify.”  This one is such a problem that maybe I need a big flashing neon sign.

Do the Research.  I admit it — I don’t particularly enjoy research.  It’s more of a tool to me, like proofreading and editing.  But it makes a big difference in how the story comes together.

Don’t Focus on the Details.  I’m bad with them, and yet, I constantly catch myself thinking I need to do quick research to get the name of something.

It’s not a lot — only the things where it’s apparently hard for me to remember to either do them or not do them.  By identifying them, I’m hoping it’ll make the bad ones less habit forming.

What would you put on your Standard Operating Procedure?  Tell us about them in them in the comments.

I hope you’ll read my article Writing a Novel When You’re Right-Brained on Vision: A Resource for Writers or check out “On Critique Groups” in The New Writer’s Handbook 2007: A Practical Anthology of Best Advice for Your Craft and Career.  I also have a guest blog on setting on Sue Santore’s blog on October 28.