Here in Wyoming, we love our cowboys. In fact, we’re so proud of our cowboy heritage that our legislature ratified the “Code of the West” as our official code of conduct last year. It’s a distillation of the traditional Cowboy Code endorsed by everyone from Roy Rogers to Ty Murray.
It may be simplistic, but it provides good rules to live by–and to write by. The same tenets that help cowboys gather the cattle can be applied to your writing career. Here’s the code, interpreted for romance writers:
• Live each day with courage. It takes courage to face that blank page and spill your soul onto it. Buckle down and do it–every day.
• Take pride in your work. Make every page of your manuscript the best it can be, free of grammar goofs and typos. You want those editors and agents to see your best work–so make sure that’s what you’re sending out.
• Always finish what you start. Fourteen half-finished manuscripts won’t get you anywhere. Choose one, commit to your story, your characters, and your career, and finish it.
• Do what has to be done. If you have a scene that doesn’t forward the plot, cut it. Editing hurts, but in the end, you’ll have a better product.
• Be tough, but fair. Be realistic about your work, but don’t let your inner critic sabotage your dreams. Your manuscript needs to be great, but it doesn’t have to be perfect.
• When you make a promise, keep it. If you told an agent you’d send them your manuscript on Friday, keep your word. Being a true professional could convince an agent or editor who’s on the fence to take a chance on your work.
• Ride for the brand. When you get famous, you can blend genres and bend rules. But when you’re starting out, publishers want to know exactly where your book belongs on the shelf–so make a commitment to your genre and stick with it.
• Talk less, say more. Readers these days are used to television, where images flicker past in a heartbeat and a story wraps up in two hours or less. Don’t test their patience. Make every word count, and make sure every scene pushes the story forward.
• Remember that some things are not for sale. Sure, dark urban fantasy is hot, but maybe you’re not a dark-and-urban kind of gal. It’s okay to study the market, but don’t sell your soul to get published. Write what you love.
• Know where to draw the line. Writing matters, but some things matter more. Family, work, friends–success is meaningless if you’ve let these things fall by the wayside. Keep your life in balance by getting out of your fictional universe and living in the real world once in a while.