Writing Rules Are More Like Guidelines

There are so many rules for writing that it’d be hard to count them all, even more so if you consider all the advice that’s out there.

Show don’t tell, don’t edit as you write, write every day, avoid adverbs, write in the morning, write at night, write drunk/edit sober, avoid passive voice, plan your book, don’t plan your book, write to market, don’t use sentence fragments, avoid dialogue tags other than ‘said,’ avoid using the dialogue tag ‘said’…

The list goes on and on and on. It’s enough to make your head spin.

Following them all is pretty much impossible, especially when they contradict each other (like some of the ones I mentioned up there). Not to mention the fact that following every single one eliminates any wiggle room for personal style.

Which is why I like to think of them as guidelines.

Everyone is different.

That’s a pretty well accepted fact.

And it means that everyone works differently and likes different things.

So, for the sake of standing out from the crowd, for the sake of truly expressing ourselves and the stories we have in our heads, for the sake of allowing ourselves to write in a way that actually works for us and our lives/personal challenges, some rules must be broken.

Or at least bent.

I use sentence fragments and short paragraphs all the time. I start sentences with conjunctions (which is technically a correct sentence format but everyone thinks it’s wrong). I don’t write every day, I never plan my books, and I always do some level of editing while I write.

Because those are some of the rules that just don’t work for me.

But it is important to learn the rules, to understand why they are the way they are, so you know when to break them.

For example, writing every day is a good way to get into a habit and keep the creative juices flowing.

But allowing myself to skip a day of writing helps me not feel guilty so that when I do write, I’m not psyching myself out by trying to make up for lost days. I don’t have time on days where I work twelve hour shifts, and sometimes I need to edit instead of write.

So, skipping days is fine for me. I don’t need the habit to get myself to finish my books.

Another thing I do that isn’t necessarily correct according to rules… Sentence fragments, short paragraphs, and starting sentences with conjunctions.

People just aren’t typically accustomed to these things. There is the risk of pushing a reader out of the narrative simply because these aren’t the norm. Same with first person/present tense.

But.

They work for my writing style, my author voice. They go a long way toward establishing flow, getting the cadence just right. And for me, that’s important. It fits with my writing style.

So, take the time to learn some of the writing rules. You should know them, really. But don’t be afraid to step outside the lines and move beyond those rules.

Writing is, at the very core of its essence, an act of creativity.

Just like some painters throw colors together that shouldn’t go together (and somehow make them work) and some musicians combine genres that just shouldn’t work (and somehow make them fit), writers have the amazing ability to do things that just shouldn’t make sense…

And somehow, make it work.

Learn some rules, and then decide if they work for you, your story, and your style.


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