Rules (Myths) for Writers

There are a million (if not more) rule books out there for writers. They tell you to do something a certain way to really maximize your writing potential and to boost your career. While I’m certain that many of these guides have a completely honest purpose, many of them do not. Instead, they are made to feed on the wallets of those who don’t know much about writing, but who really want to do it. In fact, I think that you should take any rules you’ve heard about writing and throw them out the window with a quick “farewell”. Some of the most popular include:

Meet a Daily/Weekly/Monthly Word Count

Myths for WritersIf you enjoy doing this, wonderful. If you don’t, avoid forcing yourself. Writing is an art and it should not be squeezed out of you just to meet a word count. When you push yourself too hard, your writing becomes about the numbers and not about your talent. It becomes a job instead of a pleasure. Write at your own pace, when you want to write. If the story comes easy you’ll have plenty of words on the page. If it doesn’t, writing things that you’ll only erase later won’t do you any good.

Don’t Use This or That

Myths for WritersYou’ll often hear things like “adverbs are your enemy”, and “the passive voice is the worst voice”, but there are exceptions to everything. If you want to use an adverb, use a bloody adverb. If you don’t, don’t! Your writing is your own, completely different from what works for someone else. Own it! Find your own style and your own preferences and don’t worry about what you’re “supposed” to do. Thinking outside of the box will get you ahead much faster than trotting along with the sheep.

Don’t Do This or That

Myths for WritersIn researching for this post, I came across one rule that said “don’t go into great detail describing places and things”, and another that said “avoid detailed descriptions of characters”. I know I refer to LOTR often, but this is the perfect place to do it. Tolkien is known for description, both positively and negatively. Would you really want to go back and tell Tolkien that he didn’t know what he was doing? What works for your setting or character may not work for someone else’s, but don’t let that make you think that your work is any less than theirs. There’s no “right” way to write a character or describe a world. Do what feels right and listen to your editor.

Keep Records

Myths for WritersSome people like to write down story ideas, moments, thoughts, etc. Some don’t. If you don’t, it doesn’t make you a bad writer. It doesn’t make you less dedicated. I don’t write things down, it’s just not my style. I need a story or an idea to grow in my head for awhile before I put it on paper (or screen). Others like to keep journals, files, and notes. What works for one doesn’t always work for all, and that’s completely OK.

Deadlines are Necessary

Myths for WritersIf you’re self-publishing, they are not. They are nice, but don’t beat yourself up if you can’t meet one. Books take time. More time than most people think. I have had more than one client push a deadline and feel bad about it because they just didn’t realize what it would take to write a whole book. You might have an idea, but once your own soul gets caught up in it, it sometimes becomes harder to tell. Take time, let the story come as it will, and don’t worry about anyone else. You’ll have a better story in the end.

Successful Authors Know Best

Myths for WritersNo, they don’t. They got lucky. There are a ton of writers out there with absolutely brilliant manuscripts that just didn’t catch a break. There are many authors that we don’t hear of until years and years after their books have been published. On the other hand, there are many (many, many) terrible books out there. Of course, you need a good manuscript to get started, but they all started the same way as you—nervous and a little afraid, standing in front of a publisher with what they hoped was a good (and marketable) story in their hands.

Your writing is your own and no one else’s. Only you can decide what helps you to write a better story. Only you can figure out if writing is really in your bones. There are no rules to writing in reality, so don’t feel guilty for not abiding by any of the ones that have been created. Each author has their own set of rules, that works well for them. Create your own and write what you will.

What’s the worst writing advice that you have ever received? Do you have any self-made rules that you follow?

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24 thoughts on “Rules (Myths) for Writers

  1. Oh I so agree with you. The best writing advice anyone can have is to write, keep on finding the next right word and put it with another great word, Finish what you are writing and don’t give up!
    Nothing more to it.

    • Ah, glad to hear it! That’s excellent advice, to just move forward one word at a time. We all need to find what works for us, not someone else. Take your time, make it what you want it to be. 🙂

  2. Yeeeeeeees!! The best advice I ever got was to find my own path to writing and publishing, because no two authors ever do it the same way. It makes me crazy when people publish all these rules on writing and publishing, because every reader has different tastes, and every writer has a different style. That’s what makes literature so interesting.

    • I just hope that no one feels badly for not being able to follow them. Following rules doesn’t make you a great writer, finding your voice and your style does, and it won’t always fit with what others want. You’re absolutely right—if all of us wrote the same, books would be pretty boring.

  3. Oh God, I hate the rule about “writing what you know”. I’m currently writing a post about that rule, about what your teachers expect from you in using that rule and how it actually plays out. It’s such a crap piece of rule, because a lot of authors just throw it out the window.

    The best advice I’ve ever gotten is “open yourself up to new things”. A new experience could lead to plenty of new stories on your part. I went to Europe earlier this year and came away with around forty ideas for stories.

    My second favorite piece of advice is “if you get stuck, do something else.” Psychology does show that if you focus on something else while trying to solve a problem, you’ll solve it much more quickly than if you just tackle it head on without pause. I’ll watch TV, go for a walk, hang out with friends, or even just take a shower when I’m stuck. Works every time for me and I’m able to keep going.

  4. Great post! It’s nice to hear out loud that we don’t have to keep up with every single other opinion of writing rules, it can be especially overwhelming for new writers. I personally like to discipline myself with either a certain weekly word count or at least committed hour count for writing. I like to set goals when my books are complete for editing, formatting and publishing, otherwise time can get away from me. I prefer to call it setting goals as opposed to deadlines.

  5. I agree with your post. There seems to be so many rules out there that I feel like pulling my hair out, sometimes! Don’t write back stories. Don’t use adverbs. Avoid too many descriptors. And on it goes.

    I’m kind of cherry picking from writing advise. If I agree with a rule, then I’ll keep it. If I don’t, then out the door it goes. If anyone doesn’t want to read my work, then that’s okay. It’s the people that like my work…now, that’s who I’m writing for! 🙂

    • That’s a good way to go. There’s an audience for everything, and we need to realize that since readers are so vast and complex in their individuality, no one set of rules will appeal to them all. Find your audience and give them what they want, that’s the best advice I can give.

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