The First Rule of Write Club

Always write for yourself

Mindi Boston
6 min readMar 16, 2024
A neon sign over a desk reads, “What is your story?”
Photo by Etienne Girardet on Unsplash

Learning the rules of writing

When I was eight, I wrote a story about a woman named Lucinda caught after closing in a wax museum. As she wandered around, the sculptures came to life and began to herd her into the hall of horrors. By the end of the purple-inked grape-scented saga, Lucinda had been disemboweled (not the term I used then) by the aptly named “bloody murderer.” My elementary teacher reached out to my parents in concern about my wild imagination and dark subject matter. It was then that I learned the first lesson of writing: You don’t just have to be good, you have to follow the rules.

From then on, I saved my scary stories for campfires and later to keep my kids in check. A terrifying ape named ‘Pitmonkey’ lived in our crawl space and came out at night looking for bad kids who got out of bed after ten. An old crone waited inside our walls to attack children who forgot their chores. I fueled my love of storytelling while knowing my young audience would be captivated by my often dark imagination. It was not until those naughty children grew up that I returned to my love of writing.

After a painful divorce, I poured myself into the creative process. I wrote at lunch, while the kids did homework, and into the wee hours after they were in bed. I wrote stories for magazines, poured my heart out in a personal blog, and did a few articles for the local paper. My loftiest goal was to finish a full-length novel. I had the story in my head and knew exactly what I wanted to say. I thought if only I could squeeze enough hours out of my full schedule to type a hundred thousand words, I would be published.

Like motherhood and marriage, nothing proved to be as easy as I thought. Another decade and a half would pass before life let me reach my goal of a finished manuscript. Even then, after typing “the end,” I discovered my work had just begun.

Writing is more than just words

In the old days of traditional publishing, the process was pretty straightforward. A writer penned a novel. A few friends read it. Maybe the author had their manuscript edited by another friend who wanted the favor returned one day, and then it was queried to a dozen agents. Somewhere between double and triple-digit rejections, a writer found representation or received enough constructive criticism to take a few steps back and reconsider their darlings. For those of us who grew up with this rosy expectation, we assumed writing the novel was the hard part. A few deep internet dives told me I had no idea what I was talking about.

Today, every pseudo-celebrity or social media influencer pushes their ghost-written biographies. Trauma porn, beach reads, and formulaic book club picks lead the industry. Traditional houses pick up the cool kids, the ones winning popularity contests rather than those influenced by the literary masters. It has become less about the writer’s talent and more about their marketing skills.

I’ve spent a year discovering what agents want, how to query, who to query, and how to handle rejection. At each step, I hear stories from peers about their hundreds of rejections. I read article after article about J.K. Rowling and Stephen King’s hard-fought battles through the piles of “no thanks” before they found their niche.

It takes hundreds of rejections to get one yes.

Revise your query. Revise your sample pages.

Read what agents are looking for and write what sells.

Self-publishing puts the power back in the author’s hands, so do that.

Learn from the constructive criticism you receive from those rejections.

Read what sells and learn the formula for today’s best-seller.

But what about those of us who have a hundred rejections sitting in our email, have done our due diligence in revision hell, and have nothing but form letters full of trite-but-polite speak that says nothing about why they did not connect with our book? We fall between the cracks of wondering if self or traditional publishing is in the cards for us or if we would be better off taking up underwater basket weaving.

Back to my roots to discover why I wrote

Recently, I found myself reminiscing about my first writing group in the early aughts. I was so excited to find others who felt that familiar pull of the written word. The folks in the group held MFAs in Creative Writing, had penned successful screenplays, and were journalists and published authors. I introduced myself sheepishly and added that I wasn’t a real writer. A guy with sadness in his eyes and a couple of pseudo-popular books told me I was as real as they were.

“Kid,” he said, “you’re never gonna get rich writing. You’re never gonna get famous. The first rule of Write Club is to write for yourself, not the fickle masses.”

At the time, his advice went in one ear and out the other. I assumed his words were something famous rich writers said to keep their egos in check. I was convinced that with their help and motivation my first book would be finished in a few months and published. I never considered another option.

…Until this year. The first rejection from an agent stung. The tenth from a publisher that read me the riot act first and then rejected me was like a kick in the teeth from a rodeo bull. My skin got so painfully thin that I was practically see-through. I was ready to give up and accept that what I’d said in that first meeting was true: I wasn’t a real writer. Worse, if Fifty Shades of Filth was what sold, did I even want to be a writer anymore?

Then something funny happened. I picked up the hardback from my bookshelf I had been reading when I started my first novel some fifteen years ago. It was a crummy movie but an epic book. I thumbed through the pages and found myself caught up like I had been then. The author breaks all the current rules of writing, the ones I have heard time and again from editors and agents. He tells the reader in beautiful prose what the characters are thinking instead of jumping directly into dialogue or action. He jump starts the imagination with flashbacks and flash-forwards, and keeps the reader up until three in the morning, trying to see what happens next, and how all the pieces tie together in a fancy bow. His work makes me laugh, it makes me gasp. It makes me cry, big ugly tears for the hero in which I recognized so much of myself. It makes me feel in the way only a book that is born of blood and tears can. Most of all, it makes me want to be the writer I had dreamed of at eight years old. Back then, the book touched me so deeply that my only response was to write my story down. Now, it reminds me to believe in that story, even when the future looks uncertain.

The first rule remains the same

The fate of my finished novel currently lies in the hands of a couple of small publishers. I don’t know if they will like it–hell, I don’t know if anyone other than my mother will like it. I won’t get rich and I won’t get famous. I won’t be the most popular girl in class and if my third-grade teacher could see it, she’d probably think to herself that she had been right about me all along. But I know it is the story I wanted to write, the way I wanted it written, rules be damned. I believe in it and that will have to be enough. Like sad eyes with the pseudo-bestsellers once told me, if you write for yourself, you’ll always have an audience.



Mindi Boston

Mindi Boston is a novelist and freelance writer out of the Midwest. For more information, visit