Writing Rules Ruin My Books


The more writing books you read, lectures you attend, and authors you talk to, the more ways you discover to complete the magical journey known as ‘noveling.’ (It’s a word.)

One thing new writers tend to come up against, however, is the sheer amount of rules there are in the craft. The more rules there are, the more pressure they feel, until they become overwhelmed and lose interest in writing at all.

But keep in mind:

There are some authors who completely ignore writing groups (Brandon Mull).

There are some who write multiple first drafts back to back without editing (Joe Abercrombie).

There are some who write with the barest of outlines (Jim Butcher).

There are others who write 200,000 words of outline (Brandon Sanderson).

Some introduce their villains in the first 50 pages (Jessica Townsend).

Some don’t give their main antagonist on-screen time until the last chapter (J.K. Rowling).

Some authors think interesting characters ought to have character arcs (Howard Taylor).

Some write amazing characters who don’t develop one iota across heaps of novels (Death, Terry Pratchett).

Some authors abhor swifties and adjectives (Brent Weeks).

Others couldn’t seem to care less about dialogue tags and adjective use (J.K. Rowling, again).

Here’s what works for me: add the special effects in edits. Write an outline (if you so desire), allow it to guide your work, but just get words to page. The fun of writing a first draft is in not feeling the need to make it perfect. Now, some people might disagree with me on that. If that’s the case, then do the opposite–more power to you!

But if you’re like me, the number of “rules” you have to remember can bog you down. Write the first draft first, then go back and flesh out character, add the moments of ‘cool’, add character growth, rearrange things that need to be rearranged.

Ultimately, the more you write, the more comfortable your own process will become, and the more instinctual a lot of these things will be. I once got in trouble with an agent for not following proper narrative arc; we went back and forth for seven months, but in the end I wouldn’t change what she wanted changed, and we parted ways.

Sometimes, the craft itself, the book itself is the ends. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but you have to love it. Take advice, take lots of it, take painful advice and harsh critiques, but over time you’ll learn which parts to ignore and which parts to listen to. Brandon Sanderson (in some of his online lectures) mentions how he only finds about half of all his writing advice to be particularly helpful.

This isn’t school. You won’t lose points for not following directions. You’re in charge of your own story and characters. You get to do whatever it is you want. Sometimes, much to your downfall. But the fun part about writing is the creation of it all. The point of a book isn’t the book itself, it’s you as the author, becoming a better writer and creator.

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