Three Golden Rules For Writing That I Never Follow

Howdy, howdy!  I recently talked to a friend from my critique group about some comments I sent her on a story, and she mentioned the notion of writing rules.  These are the things that get constantly reiterated in writing programs (like our MFA program).  We’re told all of the things we can and can’t do.  Meanwhile, authors who are getting published are breaking all the rules and no one else seems to care.  Does that mean the rules are really suggestions?  No, not necessarily.  It simply means people are choosing to break the rules that don’t work for them or their stories.  Some of them do this more successfully than others, in my opinion.  But I’m glad I learned the rules because breaking them deliberately tends to work better than breaking them because you don’t know any better.

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Sure they are.

But here are three of the rules of writerhood that I never follow:

1. Write EVERY day, even on holidays and when you’re sick.  Because everyone knows you’re not really a writer unless you write a bunch of words every single day and never take a break.  Except, that’s complete bullshit and anyone who tells you otherwise is a Liar McLiarson.  Yes, it’s good in the beginning and helps train your brain to take writing seriously, but beyond that, it’s just not possible and you shouldn’t feel obligated to work that way if it doesn’t help you.  Personally, I need a weekend, even though I mostly just sit around and play mindless games.  Self care is important and you deserve it.  Plus, who wants to write after they’ve been up all night projectile vomiting (just an example)?  It’s okay to take breaks.

2. ALWAYS read your work aloud.  This is great advice if you’re practicing for a reading or if something doesn’t feel right and you can’t figure out what it is, but I don’t like reading things out loud.  For one, I feel stupid doing it.  But mostly, I don’t want to read my novels out loud because I’m lazy.  It would take forever at the pace I speak.  Plus, the voices in my head make reading silently more interesting for me and I can hear when things sound abnormal in their voices, whereas if I’m reading aloud, I might find out where I stumble over phrasing, but I’ll miss things that feel natural to me even though my character wouldn’t actually say it.  So, reading everything out loud isn’t for me.

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Stephen King said it, so it must be true!

3. Adverbs are BAD.  This is one of those rules that I ignore when I’m writing, but follow when I’m revising.  Yes, there’s usually a better way to say things than using adverbs, but I’ll be damned if they aren’t awesome in a first draft (which is the writing part of writing for me).  It’s difficult to think of the perfect phrasing when your goal is to get words down on a page.  That’s where adverbs come in handy.  Sure, there are better, more evocative ways of saying “she walked slowly upstairs,” but it’s a perfectly acceptable phrase for a first draft.  You can decide in your edits whether she trudged, or hobbled, or snuck (sneaked?), or whatever.  But adverbs are great placeholders until that point.

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Such a rebel.

So yeah, those are a few of the golden rules of writerhood that I break.  What about you?  Are there any rules of your craft that you don’t follow?  Anything that seems like it was created by an overzealous person who didn’t understand that not everyone works the way they do?  Feel free to share your thoughts, comments, etc. here or on my social media pages!

I Might’ve Broken The Rules

Happy March!  How was your Leap Day?  Mine was actually pretty productive.  It was the first day in a long time that I met my “this is acceptable” word count (1000+ words).  I broke one of my golden rules to do it, but the writing is what’s important, right?  Rules are made to be broken and all that.  Or maybe I’m just nuts.  Or trying to rationalize things that don’t really matter.  I mean, it’s not like anyone’s going to punish me for breaking my own rule, right?  It’s just the voices in my head that complain about it.  They’ll deal eventually.  Do you have rules you stick to when writing?  Or is that just something crazy people do?

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Nancy Holder!  Blame her for the rules thing.

 

I suppose the whole “rules” thing started during my first semester at Stonecoast.  Up until then, I had no rules, no discipline, and all I was writing was short stories.  I wrote when I felt like it or when something was due.  Deadline induced panic was an essential part of my process.  Then Stonecoast happened.

I was actually pretty terrified at the prospect of writing a novel, but I wanted to do it.  My mentor at the time was Nancy Holder, and she’s a super supportive type, so she encouraged me to do it.  There was no “try,” there was just “do it.”  Of course, I asked “how?”  Her response was “keep writing!”  Yeah, it wasn’t helpful at the time, but she was right (as mentors tend to be).  So I wrote, got past twenty pages (my usual stopping point), and kept writing.  Around page fifty, I wanted to stop and work on something else.  Nancy said no.

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It was kind of like that.

 

She explained that starting a new project was a form of procrastination that all writers are tempted by.  If you’re constantly stopping one thing to start something else, you’ll never finish anything.  It made a lot of sense, especially for something as large as a novel.  And thus, my first rule (the one I broke) was born.  I’d never start a new novel while one was sitting half-finished and waiting on me (aka one I haven’t given up on).  I’d wait until I at least had a first draft.  It only applied to novels, so I admit to writing flash fiction, short stories, poetry, etc.  Basically anything to give me a break here and there, but that could be finished in a few days was acceptable procrastination.

But, since I’ve been in a slump, I finally decided to say “screw it!” and started a new WIP.  It doesn’t mean that I love the old one any less, it just means I can’t get into that world right now.  Same goes for the screenplay.  I love it, but my heart just isn’t in it.  Hopefully that will change as I get back to a normal rhythm, but for now, I needed something new that no one has seen or heard about.  Something strictly mine.  Something that doesn’t have any expectations to live up to.  It can fail completely, I can trash it, and no one will ever be able to ask “what happened to that novel about that thing?”  Does that even make sense?

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I still have a bunch of other rules that I haven’t broken, but I guess what I’m trying to say is that it’s okay to break a rule once in a while if nothing else is working for you.  So, what are your rules?  Have you ever broken them?  Did it help?  Or am I just crazy?