Screw the Rules!!

First and foremost: THERE ARE NO RULES IN WRITING!

There are only grammar and spelling rules. And frankly, that is for the benefit of the reader. After all, I don’t know anyone who actually likes to get a headache trying to figure out what something says.

For the longest, longest time, I was the only writer I knew. Sure I had the odd frenemy in middle school who also wrote stories and a couple of awesome poet friends. But it wasn’t until my junior year of high school that I met another aspiring novelist! Needless to say, we became insta-acquaintances, because I was also the only wannabe writer she knew. Until then, I was alone in my writer’s box. I was the crazy friend. And I felt every ounce of it.

Since I was alone, to improve my craft, I compared myself to my favorite authors and tried to mimic what they did. After all, I had no idea how to improve, no one to ask, and had knowledge of the self-help section of the bookstore. (That was for old people, see?) I wrote several “experiment” novels, trying my darnest to make each one much better than the last. Then I would get feedback from my friends who read a lot and try again. When I met this writer though, I finally had someone I could talk to, you know. I finally had someone who understood. I finally had someone who could tell me WHY my ending sucked. And here’s the bad part, I finally had someone introduce me to the “rules.”

You know the ones. The same crap the world has been passing around for decades. Spreading stress and fear and a crazy host of other crap. I’m not saying these rules should never be read. I’m saying they should be learned and then NEVER looked at again. Books on writing shouldn’t become your Writing Bible. Read them once, tuck them away, and pass them on to newbies you meet along the way.

Here’s why:
Clinging to the rules doesn’t do you any favors. It only stresses you out, impedes your creativity, and causes you focus on all the wrong elements of your story.

Writing books are meant to guide you. They’re meant to help you figure out why your novels always turn into novellas, your pacing is always skewed, why your opening chapter is the most hideous thing ever, and other such debacles.

Read the dumb book, or books, and then NEVER read them again. Find a permanent place on your bookshelf and celebrate your newfound freedom as a bonafide rule breaker.

Still need help? Turn to people who are great and learn from them. The writing book is step one. Why on earth do you want to stay on step one forever? Step one is for beginners. Step one is the very, very basics of writing. Or what I like to call, the kindergarten of writing. And I have seen more writers fall apart from trying to follow the rules and stay in the first grade then ANY other possible writing malady. (And oh my gosh, there are so many.)

I’m not saying a couple of books on writing didn’t improve my craft. They did. And then I spent 5 years unable to finish anything at all, because I couldn’t stop thinking and worrying and rereading stuff. And if there’s anything that impedes your craft, it’s thinking too much. Read that again.

So, stop it. Glue the book shut if you have to. You are not doing yourself any favors. Either you learned what you needed to know or you didn’t. Either you know your ABCs or you don’t. If you do, then move on. Because writing rules are for the people who don’t know what they’re doing. We’ve all been there. Don’t stay there.

end rant

10 Responses to Screw the Rules!!

  1. Yes! Preach girl. Tbh, I don’t usually find writing books helpful. But yeah, I think writers get hung up on rules and we’re neurotic to begin with, so we try to follow them and it completely hinders creativity.

  2. I agree. I hate to say this, but it’s why I have a little bit of a love-hate thing going on with AW. People spout a lot of rules over there, and sometimes they are helpful guidelines taken to rigid extremes and sometimes they apply to whatever genre the poster is working in but are inappropriate as a general rule. And sometimes they’re just silly. Of course, there is a lot of good advice over there, which is why I keep going back. But you know what I mean, right?

    • I know exactly what you mean! I see so many people getting overwhelmed and freaking out when rules are being thrown at them, and I wish I could take them aside and calm them down. Like, it’s just not that serious, you know.

      But you’re right, there is plenty of helpful stuff on there, too, so I go back and just try to distance myself from the unhelpful posts.

  3. Yes! I love this. I don’t read writing rules books – maybe that’s my bad and maybe I write absolutely terribly for it, but the few times that I’ve tried to do so it seemed to me that it was stifling to creativity to keep thinking in these rigid ways. I feel like I’ve learned a lot more intuitively from reading (and absorbing? Maybe) great writers than some Polemic from, say, Stephen King, who really isn’t a *great* writer.

    • If you’re learning from people who are great, you are absolutely not terrible. ^_^ I totally agree. I learn so much more from seeing what awesome writers have done. The most helpful thing that ever came out of a rule book for me was pointing out two glaring problems that I had and hadn’t figured out how to fix yet. I found the rest completely suffocating. And the worst thing is, the people who write the rule books don’t even follow the rules, you know! It’s madness.

  4. Love this! I, too, spent a long time in the writer’s closet. As an avid reader, I compared myself to multiple writers across many genres. Ultimately, you have to be the writer you are. It takes a while to figure that out (heck, I’m still figuring it out and about to publish book 3). But having a writing community has made a huge difference. Great post!

  5. Hey, in certain situations, even the grammar rules do go right out the window!

    I will say, however, that I do try to not overdo it when it comes to the adverbs. (One of my editors will make me take a lot of them out anyway, so I might as well just find a better way to write it in the first place….)

    • That’s true! Breaking grammar rules can be especially fun. šŸ™‚
      I do have a bit of an adverb problem. Ha, ha… I am taking some of them out in the rewrite, but I really like most of them. o_O

Hi! ^_^