Today I have at my blog a special guest, Desiree Joy Villena who is a writer with Reedsy, a service for authors. She has written many posts about writing and publishing for Write To Done, The Write Life, Electric Literature, and many more sites in the publishing industry. She has a fantastic range of resources to impart and is helpful enough to share some of that knowledge here.
So here’s a guest post related to writing which many of you will find very, very useful. Over to Desiree and her topic for today that is:
Give Yourself Permission to Break These 3 Writing Rules:
Are you chipping away at a manuscript? Chances are, you’re already looking forward to hitting the period key for the final time and typing out a triumphant, all-caps “THE END”. But whether you’re plotting to take Kindle Direct Publishing by storm or wondering when to start putting out feelers for an agent, it’s important not to get too ahead of yourself. After all, you can’t get published until you’ve got an actual book in hand.
If you’re working on a book, you probably enjoy writing. But getting a manuscript over the finish line can still feel like a stressful, nerve-wracking process. With so many writing rules you’re supposed to follow, it’s hard not to find yourself freezing up on occasion. Can you even type out so much as a sentence without flouting some legendary writer’s oft-repeated advice?
Write for yourself… but keep an eye on the market.
Paint a picture with your words… but don’t make it purple.
Choose strong, precise verbs… unless they’re used in place of “said”.
With so many contradictory rules floating around, you might find yourself overthinking every word you type — making it impossible to finish (let alone publish) your book. Luckily, you don’t have to follow every piece of advice to craft a killer story. In fact, here are three writing rules you should feel free to break.
1. Write from an outline
Some authors swear by outlines. But if you’re not one of them, don’t feel like you have to fake it. If it goes against your natural bend towards spontaneity, you might end up forcing your plot down an unnatural direction, leaving you with stilted prose and cardboard characters.
Also, you might very well start from an outline, only find yourself diverging from it as you go from bare-bones idea to a fleshed-out story. Your characters, after all, will change as you write them. Feel free to explore the tantalizing new paths they’ll inevitably want to drag you down, even if you end up throwing your old outline in the dustbin.
2. Write every day
Everyone has off days, and it can be instructive to work through them. But if you consistently force yourself to write when you’re really, really not feeling it, you’ll likely exhaust yourself without even producing much usable prose. The last thing you want is for writing to feel like a chore. Sure, it’s work, but it should be joyful work.
The next time you find yourself well and truly stuck, give yourself permission to do something else. You don’t even have to step away from your manuscript entirely — after all, finishing a book involves so much more than just the actual writing. If drafting feels like pulling teeth, try spending the day talking yourself through a complicated plot point, or diving into some research for an upcoming scene. And most importantly, don’t make yourself feel guilty about it!
3. Write what you know
This one’s probably the most commonly cited writing rule of all, but that doesn’t mean you should live and die by it. At the very least, you can interpret it elastically.
Take it from Ursula K. Le Guin, the legendary writer of sci-fi and fantasy. Now known for her wildly original tales of spaceflight and wizardry, she once got the usual advice: write what you know. And what did Le Guin have to say about that? “I think it’s a very good rule and have always obeyed it. I write about imaginary countries, alien societies on other planets, dragons, wizards, the Napa Valley in 22002. I know these things. I know them better than anybody else possibly could, so it’s my duty to testify about them.”
So change that rule to, Don’t write what you know — write what you want to know. Or maybe just remind yourself that you know more than you think. Once you give your imagination permission to roam, you’ll be able to write your book in the spirit of joyful discovery.
A big thank you, Desiree, for this wonderful post which will surely benefit the writers. Most of the author community is riddled with uncertainties and hemmed in by the rules. While rules are important as they anchor the structure of writing, it is also important to know that rules should never interfere with creativity, but rather harness and guide it. Thanks for pointing this out in a lovely post.
Dear writers, have you found any rules related to writing which you feel are better cast off? Or a rule you found annoying, but had to grin and bear it? Do share in the comments! Would love to hear from you.