We’re always hearing about the cardinal rules for writing, the ones that might just tip us into greatness, but hearing about them and following them are two very different things. I think I’ve broken every single writing rule I’ve ever tried to stick to.
But hey, rules are meant to be broken. Right? I hope so, because here’s my top 10 most frequently, guiltily overlooked writing rules.
1. Write in a linear fashion
2. Write at the same time every day
3. Always write a certain number of words per day
4. Actually write every single day
5. Spell correctly
6. Never switch POV mid paragraph
7. Write legibly so you can transcribe it later
8. Don’t copy the writers you love
9. Only have one writing project on the go at a time
10. Wait until something is finished before trying to submit it
Pfft. It’s a wonder I get anything done really. I honestly think that while setting yourself some targets or guidelines can be great, rules can be more demoralizing than anything else. Or am I just looking for excuses for my general laziness?
18 thoughts on “10 Writing Rules I Love To Break”
There are no rules for how to write. We have to find our own ways of doing it, and as long as we recognise whether it works or not, that’s the best way.
Totally agree with you Nathan, but darn, those articles promising ’10 ways to make sure your writing never fails’ sucker me in sometimes!
I never think of them as rules – more as guidelines.
Although, having said that, all rules are made to be broken.
Totally and sometimes breaking them is the best bit.
The only rule is, as they say, there are no rules. But I agree, that these ones are not worth keeping. They imply a regular life, the kind where you can write every day, at the same time, have switched off your spell-checker (doh) and dont take risks. Thanks for exposing them. Drink that coffee.
That spell checker is a lifesaver. Except for when it autochanges to something bizarre! And who wants a life that’s too regular, coffee and risks sound great.
I don’t trust spell checker’s. I let them have their cursory run through to pick up obvious typos but, far too often for my liking, I see American spelling creep in if I’m not careful!
Although proof reading is a habit I should make better use of!
So hard to accurately proof read your own stuff, word blindness creeps in, but you’re right, it’s better than trusting the machine.
Every guest lecturer at my university creative writing course had completely different advice about how to write, so I basically ignored them. One guy insisted you had to be reading all the time, otherwise how could you write something yourself? He seemed to basically be saying there was no need to be original. And I got depressed by the ones who treated it like a business and focused on writing what people want to read rather than what you want to write. I was never into that.
Out of your suggested rules to break, the only one I consistently followed was the spelling one!
(By the way, I wonder who designs these guest avatars and what recreational substances they were on at the time).
I do like to be creative with my spelling. By that read, I can’t help but be creative with my spelling! There’s something to be said for the reading all the time method, as long as you’re dong it to find out whether your brilliant original idea is really all that original or not. But the worst thing is just replicating other people’s stuff.
As fr the avatars, I’m quite fond out brown-blob-with-red-claws Dave.
I like the idea of reading all of the time just because I enjoy it.
From my own point of view – as a technical exercise – I also look on it as a form of research. Not so much to determine originality but to: better understand how things are constructed, avoid reinventing the wheel and all of that good type stuff!
Though close reading is frustrating when you come across a really terrible sentence. I was completely thrown out of a book recently because I found a head-achingly terrible sentence in the work of an author I admire. Yeah one poor sentence and I sat their gnashing my teeth. I am that nerdy.
For sure, reading all the time is excellent just for its own sake! Sometimes I find it hard to switch off the technical eye and get pulled out of stories and think back wistfully to the days when I read solely for pleasure and never really thought about trying to write myself.
Ah, nerdy writers types are all good in my book.
There are only three rules about writing that matter.
1) You can’t write if you don’t read. It’s like juggling without catching.
2) As it happens, you also can’t write if you don’t, you know, write. So write.
3) If you want to be a professional, it helps to act like one.
Everything else is particulars of process, which boils down to “whatever works for you, works.”
Okay, four rules.
4) Whatever works for you, works.
Juggling without catching, I love it. Also, your fourth rule is definitely one of the most important to remember!
Why not copy the authors you love? I guess the word “copy” implies a lot more theft than “learn from”, but in any other art form, from music to illustration, copying is the foundation of learning. Illustrators begin by copying favorite cartoon characters or artworks, musicians begin by awkwardly strumming “smoke on the water”.
William Carlos Williams famously filled tons of journals with Keats-imitating sonnets, and Sylvia Plath admits to a phase when everything she wrote was severely Auden-esque. Although the poetry from these imitative phases were not the best of either WCW or Plath, imitation certainly provides a direction to grow as an artist. Just curious why it made your list.
Also, if I can add something else to the list of rules meant to be broken… The insistence that “adverbs = bad writing” is misinformed. It would mean Lolita is the worst-written book in history. seriously, the amount of adverbs…
I completely forgot about the adverb rule. Good shout, it gets a place on the list. Used well, adverbs are excellent.
I think you make a very good point about imitation, in fact, that’s the very reason it makes my list. I think using other author’s as a guide is one of the best ways to expand vocabularies and writing styles. It happens to be one of those things people often mention as something to avoid. ‘Find your own voice’ and so on.
I hadn’t considered how normal it is for artists and musicians to work from masters and improve their skills through intimation, thanks for pointing it out!