My #1 Rule of Writing

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By Tosca Lee

Late one night while I was writing my second novel, Havah, I dragged myself home from a business trip–tired, bloated, grouchy, stinky… and on deadline. I had two solid days at home before my next work trip and 5,000 words to write.
Tosca Pottery Wheel
Why then, the next day, did I want to do nothing but pick my cuticles, read my mail and watch the SyFy channel?

Fatigue is probably among the top three reasons not to write on any writer’s procrastination list (along with sudden onset of gout, spontaneous junk drawer cleaning and inspection of the hair follicles on one’s knees). Fatigue, I am used to. I confronted it during Demon’s early drafts (which took place during my divorce, in the midst of a move, and against the backdrop of a full-time on-the-road consulting job). I was published, wise to the ways of writerly misconduct and on to myself.

So how, then, did I find it especially convenient to contemplate the merits of dyeing my hair purple again? Why the sudden fascination with the more obscure features of the DVR menu and, when duty kicked in and I sat down at my desk, the sense that I was digging my heels in like my mangy shar pei on his way to the groomers?

Because I was afraid.

I didn’t realize for a long time that it was actually fear that had latched on with tiny suckers to the back of my skull. But that’s what it was, whispering that I was a poser, questioning my word choice, my sanity, and whether I was dying of a rare skin-eating disease and just didn’t know it.

I know of only two ways to remedy fear. The first is to pray.

Secondly, write. That’s what we do.
Progeny Cover
Also, stop thinking about your readers. I’m sure there’s something patently wrong with this advice, but it’s the only thing that has gotten me through Havah and every book since. It’s my #1 rule of writing: Write like no one will ever read this.

Write with all the uncensored stuff you have. Pour out the beauty, the ugliness, the questions, and anger. Bleed the fear. Time enough for censoring later (there was plenty of that with Havah, too). I meant it in the dedication of that book when I said I wrote that book for you, but while I was working, you were not with me.

Perfectionism… I’m not sure it’s all bad, personally. My friends will argue that I’m this side of mentally ill, but I’d like to think there’s genius in and time for perfectionism. Nitpicking has its place. But it isn’t while you’re writing a first draft. Honesty is messy.

In the end, we are the only ones who jointly own this thing we have done in conjunction with the creative hand of God. In the end, you are the one sitting alone, naked with The One. Like a prayer prayed out loud for the benefit of others, we are the ones who suffer the loss of that intimacy if we worry about sounding right to those around us.

No one will read this. Write your stuff in secret safety and deal some literary audacity. Time to edit, censor, and make coherent later. The honest stuff is in the mess.

Tosca LeeTosca Lee is the award-winning, New York Times bestselling author of Iscariot, The Legend of Sheba, Demon, Havah, and the Books of Mortals trilogy with Ted Dekker. Her new thriller, The Progeny, releases May 24, 2016! A notorious night-owl, she loves watching TV, football with her kids, and sending cheesy texts to her husband. Learn more at

Comments 0

  1. Well, you nailed it. If someone who writes this well has the same struggle that I do, there’s hope! And yes, praying is the cure all for writer phobias. 🙂 Guess I should get to praying and go write rather than haunt random blog posts seeking encouragement. Thanks for the encouragement anyway!

    God bless 🙂

  2. Tosca, What wise words. “Write like no one will ever read this.” As I’ve said before, the very fact that you’re writing it will affect at least one person–you. Fatigue and fear are our enemies. Thanks for good advice.

  3. Nice suggestions , I learned a lot from the information . Does anyone know if my assistant might be able to acquire a fillable OPM SF 85P copy to edit ?

  4. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve written something and then said “Is it okay that I just wrote that?!” Literary audacity. I love it. Thank you and congratulations on your new book – I look forward to reading it.

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