So, here are the 11 rules of writing, as told by a successful, persistent author:
1 there are no rules...so long as it works, you can do it. This means that every writer is different, each is going to find a style, voice and technique that works for them. But you have to know the rules, in order to break them. So start with Strunk and White's 'Elements of Style' and break the rules deliberately, not out of ignorance.
2 DOn't bore the reader. This rule is so important. Elmore Leonard said that he 'leaves out the parts that people tend to skip'. I'm trying hard to do the same, with mixed results. What people don't skip: dialog and action. Now, it's really hard to write just dialog and action and if things go wrong you get a bad Michael Bay movie (but I repeat myself). But keep any eye on your work. Are there any parts that you skip over on re-reads? Ask your beta readers to PLEASE mark anywhere that they got bored. Then go back, cut or revise those sections.
3 Don't confuse the reader. To me, this means, 'write clearly and consistently'. Once you introduce a character as 'Greg', don't start referring to him as 'Officer Walters' or 'the tall dark-haired man'. Once he's 'Greg', keep him 'Greg' unless it's in dialog. Keep your plot clean, lay the groundwork for your twists and turns. Again, ask your beta readers to tell you if at any point they got confused.
4 Don't get caught writing, (don't throw the reader out of the story). To me this builds off of rule #3. Avoid overly-elaborate prose, $50 words and florid description. If you read something and sit back and marvel at your own words, it's probably going to take the reader out of the story. This may be ok for some genres ('Literary Fiction', whatever that is, this week) but for genre fiction like I write and love, kill those darlings dead. Write simple, clear, clean.
5 Don't lie to the reader (misleading them is ok). This means you need to be consistent. No last second surprises that come out of nowhere or sudden magic powers. Don't say that the killer is left handed and then reveal that he's actually right handed at the end. You can trick them, let loose red herrings and be ambiguous but don't flat-out lie to them.
Relatedly, you can pull the unreliable narrator trick exactly once. So save it or keep it in your short fiction. Your readers will let themselves be fooled once but if you are constantly lying to them, they won't come back and read anything else by you. Your readers need to trust you and if you lie to them, they won't.
6 Don't annoy the reader. Don't preach to them, persuade them, or call them names. That doesn't mean you can't have opinions and that your character's cant. But keep in mind that you're going to have readers of all sorts of religious, cultural and political belief. Show them the same respect that you demand. If you have a message you want to get out, I don't envy you. You can do it, (see rule #1) but you have to be subtle about it, fair and real. Whatever you decide, please don't annoy your readers.
7 Writing is rewriting. Yes. Damn it. Related, don't worry about your first draft, just get the story out. Sometimes you don't know the story that's in you until your done. Sometimes you can't fit everything into the story structure the way you want it. You can fix that in your rewrites. Get the story out and brace yourself, you WILL be re-writing this story a lot.
8 Writing is rhythm. Read your work aloud. Words have a flow to them. Look at poetry, even if you don't intend to write it. Word length, word sound, sentence length, these all create a flow that will carry your reader along with you, if you create it.
9 Shorter is always better. Again, be consistent, clear, concise. Don't use three words when one will do. Cut away anything that doesn't move the plot forward. Combine scenes so you are always building your world, AND further the plot, AND revealing character. Don't have a chapter for each.
10 Story does not take a vaction (no infodumps). Don't stop telling your story to TELL your reader something. This isn't always true in all genres. In technothrillers, like Tom Clancy's work, those readers love to know how submarines and submachineguns work. Same with gun porn. Some guys love it. Same with descriptions of costume and setting. But for most genres, cut it. Keep your infodumps to one paragraph at a time and see if there isn't a way to weave in the information you want while telling the story.
11 Tell a good story. Yep.
Also, since some of my readers are heading to WorldCon/Renovation, I'd like to say, 'have fun and I'm really regretting not budgeting for this convention this year' (http://www.renovationsf.org/)