Often, teaching these classes is more about teaching new students how to be students and less about teaching them the subject of the course. So I'm thinking a lot (or, as much time as I have to spare) about general writing ... not rules necessarily...guidelines maybe? ideas? big thoughts? This has led me to a list of 5 things to keep in mind.
#1: Be Observant.
Too many of us slide through life, looking down at our phones or e-readers or computer screens and not up at the people around us, the changing seasons, the weather, that car cutting that corner a bit too tightly and too fast. Life happens up. And it's only when you take a moment to pay attention that you are able to store away the overheard conversation, the true color of October leaves, the sugary taste of the candy bar you just crammed in your pie hole, the the smell of the dog crap you nearly stepped in (life has its icky moments...and I nearly did this when I was walking along paying too much attention to texting. Trust your sense of smell. It'll save your shoes one day!).
Being observant means storing these things up for later when you're writing and realize that your characters are blahblahblahing but not existing in the world you are trying to create for them. The world might be colorful and bright in your head, but is it going to work the same way for your reader?
Being observant also means that you're more open to the possibilities, to inspiration taking hold. This is better than sitting down to a blank screen and realizing that your mind is blank as well.
The more you observe and see, hear, taste, feel, and smell around you, the more you'll have in the writing coffers for later. Plus, being observant means that you're in the moment, paying attention, on track, and, well, just more with it.