There are lots and lots of lists out there telling authors what to do and what not to do. Some of these cover marketing, querying, submitting manuscripts, editing...today I'm posting my own 5 Basic Rules for Writing (Anything). There's no order to these; I consider each of them highly important. If you are serious about writing, I highly, highly suggest you follow these guidelines.
1. Learn Your Grammar
I hear authors say it all the time: "I know my grammar's poor, but I'll fix it later."
Fix it now. Seriously. I'm not going to deny that grammar is tough and yes, I myself have to brush up on it now and again, because it's been over a decade since I took a grammar course and I forget what a present participle is or the specific usage of a semi-colon. But it's no excuse. Proper grammar is part of strong writing.
I don't fool myself into believing I will always have perfect grammar. Probably no one ever will. I'm also a big fan of the old adage, "We learn the rules so we know how to break them later". Once you understand how conjunctions are meant to be used and how sentences are meant to be structured, sure you can start a sentence with a conjunction. There's a dramatic effect in doing so; you can altar the pace and focus of your reader's inner voice. You also have to know why you shouldn't do it, though, if you want to judge the best ways in which to use that broken rule.
Yes, grammar is difficult and complex. There are lots of rules. It's no excuse to be lazy or to assume an editor will clean it up for you. You call yourself a writer, so write like it.
Do some looking around and bookmark some websites that help you understand and easily reference grammatical situations and rules you have trouble with or may forget. Do be sure these are reliable sources, of course. Or pick up a grammar guide. If there's a particular aspect of grammar you know to be a weak point (comma splices, I'm looking at you), study it until you understand.
Even if your grammar is never perfect, anyone hoping to write good books should have a much better-than-average understanding of how it works.
2. Do Your Research
This one should go without saying, but I'll say it anyway. Do not base anything in your stories on a concept you haven't spent time researching, (and on more than one website). Unless you make up a fully original historical, religious, governmental, philosophical, or social system for your story, be sure you are basing your plot in facts, or have a very, very good reason your story doesn't adhere to them.
If you're writing a story about a woman living in a big city and she has a gun for personal protection, do you know the gun laws in the area she's in? Is she breaking them somehow? If she is, why? If not a gun, how about mace? What are the rules governing mace? This could be important and have consequences to the story, if she ever reveals to anyone what she has hidden in her purse.
|(Actually, I use Wikipedia all the time...|
only as a starting point, not a single source.)