The Rules

Jo Robinson
Jo Robinson

A lot of indie authors are pretty rigid with their writing rules. There’s nothing wrong with this when it’s your style, and self-imposed. You’ll have problems though if rigid rules don’t fit well with your character, and you’ve only inflicted them on yourself because a successful and well known writer said that that’s what you should be doing if you ever want to succeed. “Must” is often the word lurking behind procrastination in any field, and when it comes to creative souls, I believe it could shut down production pretty well.

The minute we’re told we must do something, our subconscious goes into overdrive, bombarding us with all the ways we could fail, and settles like a lump in your mind, effectively blocking all those wonderful sentences that had been champing at the bit to leap onto your pages. This fear can be good in small doses. When you have to do one particular finite job, it can goad you into stepping up to the plate and giving it your best shot, purely so that you can put it behind you and move on. But if it’s a rule that you see looming into your entire future career, it could very well be daunting enough for some to throw in the towel rather than risk failure.

If you are told that in order to be any sort of author worth your salt that you MUST write a minimum of X amount of words every single day, and you MUST avoid adverbs, and you must this or that or the other thing – and you believe it – even though your writing regime and style are miles away from that, you’re pretty much going to knobble yourself. If it is your own personal goal to churn out ten books a year, and your personal writing style is naturally succinct, then apply those rules to yourself without fear. On the other hand, if you like to toss in a couple of flowery or acrimonious adverbs now and then (as I do), and if forcing yourself to write thousands of words every day raises your cortisol levels to terrifying heights, then you really shouldn’t, because even if you do manage to get any words down they’re not likely to be the ones that you would have written under your own steam. Fine for businesslike articles, but not so much for creative fiction or non-fiction.

We have more than enough fear already as writers, whether previously published or not. Thoughts pop up that what we publish will be laughed under tables all over the place, or that readers will guess which bits of our fiction aren’t really fiction at all, and think that we’re just plain weirdoes, and so on, and so on. Write your own book at your own pace, and in whatever style is yours without worrying about what anyone will think, until you’ve written the very last word of it. Then you can worry about grammar while you’re doing your dreaded edits. And just because a particular way of writing is believed by many modern authors to be the most well received, that doesn’t mean that it’s true. There is nothing wrong with a couple of well placed adverbs in any story for instance. They can add feeling and depth to a sentence. We use them in our speech after all, so why should they be excluded from the written word?

So yes, read what other authors say about their own success stories. Read all the advice out there, but think it through first as it would apply to you, and follow your own heart and style when you write your own. Many of the most wildly successful books were written in styles and by writers who conformed to nobody but themselves, and broke so many of the rules that they wouldn’t have stood a chance if they had followed the pack.

Advertisements

50 thoughts on “The Rules”

  1. An inspiring post, and actually just want I needed right now. I have so many opposing views in my head about a current project it’s fit to burst. Sometimes I think too much about what is ‘accepted’ and forget about what I want 🙂

    Like

    1. I think that we forget sometimes that readers are just people like us – mostly not overly prudish, and all with their own baggage, so a lot of things that we think could be seen as odd or abnormal in our stories would more than likely strike a cord in a good way with many. You will get those who hate something we write for whatever reason, but that doesn’t bother me overly – unless it’s a typo – that’s cringe material if it’s my typo. 🙂

      Like

      1. It can be distracting 🙂 And you’re absolutely right – we can’t all like the same thing, or follow the same formula. It was nice to be reminded, in any case, that they are my stories and I should tell them how I think they should be told. So thanks!

        Like

    1. True! There are so many “different” books that I’ve read that don’t conform that I’ve loved, and have made much more of an impact on me than they would have if they’d stuck to all the rules. 🙂

      Like

  2. Nicely expressed. People get obsessed about rules. Learn the basics, but then if you want to break them, go ahead. I think there is too much mumbo jumbo around not just writing, but editing too.

    Write from the heart is the best way to write.

    Like

    1. Thank you! I agree that the best way is from the heart, because some of the things that were the scariest to write have been the best things written. I read the other day that Lord of the Rings still has editing issues typos being fixed after all these years – those glitches really get around.

      Like

      1. It can be helpful to go back over an research the “rules” and such to help with idea generation if you get stuck, but for the most part it just comes down to writing your story. For example if you’re trying to write something that has a bit of a Victorian vibe, it could be a good idea if you get stuck to go over the plot points and character types that are typically considered to be Victorian.

        Like

    1. Those daily must write word counts are not good. I managed the NaNoWriMo in 2012 just to see how it would go, and was absolutely demolished at the end of it. Funny thing was that I don’t generally write less than 2 000 words most days when I’m just doing what I want to – it’s that big must that has you sitting staring at blank screens with blank minds.

      Like

  3. Rules do have there place– in that they often make a writer better. They keep a writer on track to write a very readable book. That’s why editors were invented, ha!. I thoroughly enjoyed your post! I did like what you said about adverbs. They shouldn’t be thrown out completely, but treated like diamonds that you don’t just give away. I also think rules should be given thought after the first draft.

    Like

    1. Thank you Dannie! I agree – adverbs should be treated like diamonds – if there are too many they can make reader’s eyeballs hurt. I’m all for making your own rules and sticking to them as best as you can. Just not blanket rules that say if you’re not doing certain things then you’re not a “professional” writer. I reckon if you write you’re a writer, and you should do it all your own way to the end of the first draft.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You know, Jo. I want to shout, yes, yes, yes, but the truth is that without a few rules writing would become a mishmash that only the writer understands. The, “Rules? I don’t need no stinking rule!” can only be pulled off by a few experts. New writers should learn them, if not always applying them. One thing I’ve fought with my editor about is dialog. In dialog there are few grammar rules, because it is natural conversation and the character says it like one lives it. Didn’t mean to expound so much. It’s just that I’ve enjoyed your post to no end.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Nothing wrong with a bit of expounding now and then Dannie. 😀 I totally agree with you – when it comes to speech it has to be as natural in a book as it would be coming out of a real person’s mouth, and real people don’t think too much about grammar when they speak. Basic rules are absolutely necessary, but not so many that they stomp on the creative process.

          Liked by 1 person

    1. It happened to me too when I was writing my first story. All the trying to show not ever tell and all the rest led to me changing the whole thing to a really strange stilted mess. Eventually I tossed it and stuck to my own way of writing. Toss out that flat and boring and write exactly what comes from you.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. When I first started writing and reviewing others work I was very rigid. All I knew was my high school and college English. You can’t have more rules than that. I did find as time went on and I became more comfortable with my writing and reviewing. I run onto some very rigid grammar police at times. I hope they read this blog.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I guess that trying to break away from the rules instilled so deeply would be hard, so good for you. If those rigid grammar police read this, they’ll absolutely disagree, I’m sure, and blast us. Still, perfectly correct doesn’t always make for enjoyable reading. That’s why I often read my sentences aloud, so I can hear if they sound natural rather than grammatically perfect.

      Like

  5. Couldn’t agree with your sentiments more, however, I find all that rigidity you talk about seems to mainly fall with traditional writers. At least the ones I’ve been around. One of the reasons I left critique groups (ONE). To each their own, more power to them and all, but not me. I don’t like being told what to do, like breaking rules, and from what I seem to be reading, I thought that was the case with Indie writers (which I am), not the other way around. Interesting take, but good sentiments!

    Like

    1. Thank you! A lot of new indie writers, before publishing their first books, are easily flummoxed by these “rules”, and then mess up their works in progress trying to tweak their writing to conform. Then the word counts – life throws lemons and they can’t keep up, so they feel that they’ve failed in some way, and there’s not much hope of creativity when you’re feeling like a failure. It’s better to accept who you are as a writer warts and all, and apart from the basics, do it entirely you own way.

      Like

  6. The way I view literature, I don’t think there is much point in writing at all if all the writer ever does is conform to rules and conventions in order to sell better and to satisfy Goodreads reviewers. Good writing is supposed to confront the reader with new ways to perceive things, which usually means going against preconceived ideas of appropriate style, topics, even grammar. If all you can do is reproduce and you have nothing genuine to show the world, you might as well stay silent.

    Like

  7. Reblogged this on Smorgasbord – Variety is the spice of life and commented:
    Rules are put in place without emotion. They do not have latitude, leeway or forgiveness and there are people in the world who need that rigidity to function. However, they should all come with a little bit of knicker elastic. They need to give a little when required whilst supporting the bigger picture…… another wonderful post from Jo Robinson who has some useful advice for us all….

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s