The thing that irritates me the most about rules for writing is all the eccentricity involved. A lot of the rules, I feel, are there to make people feel slightly more elite. We are authors, not humans! You wouldn’t understand the pain we go through for our art. Most of it is a bunch of hogwash. Of all these rules for writing, there’s only one you have to follow: there are no rules.
Writing is a craft. Yes, it takes inspiration. Yes, it takes a lot of hard work. But the thing is, writing is also a job. Writing most certainly is something you can sit down at for a few hours every day, and crank out words. Do you get easily side tracked? Yep, but that doesn’t mean you lack focus and structure (or rules). Like me, you just need more discipline.
But, because so many people are looking for rules for writing, here are some of them that I’ve found (and debunked).
Every word has to be there for a reason. Yes, every word is there for a reason, and it’s called telling a damn story. But, the way authors express this rule means every word has to mean something more than just telling the story. Every word should have an alternate meaning, or express some hidden motive of a character. That’s false. If you’re writing literary fiction, where some stuffy group of readers is going to get together and use it as a psych eval of everything that’s ever happened to the character, then yeah, you might want to add in some words that are going to give greater insight to the character. Honestly though? Just tell the story.
Write what you know. This is a big one on lists of rules for writing. It’s WRONG! What we know is safe. It’s like a warm blanket on a cold day. Maybe your favorite book tucked in a pillow fort. Maybe even a great book, a pillow fort, and hot chocolate on a cold day. You know what too many of those days are going to do to us? Yep, you guessed it: they’re going to make us afraid of venturing outside; they’re going to make us stagnant. In this same regard, only writing what you know won’t help you grow as a writer. Does that mean you should write something you’re completely ignorant on? Not at all. Research. Become an expert. This doesn’t mean that you have to alienate your readers with seven billion different genres. Stepping out of your comfort zone can be something as simple as writing about a city you’ve never been to, writing about a stereotype you don’t identify with and figuring out why your character is labeled such.
Don’t search for a subject to write about; let it find you! Well, this is just a great piece of advice (sarcasm). It’s absolute trash. Do you want to make money as an author? Most of us do. So, what do you do? SEARCH FOR A SUBJECT! Whenever I hear someone say something like: I just need the inspiration to find me! I picture the starving artist type that loves being an enigma. They probably use words like “vintage” and wear dumb hats and haunt places that they find cool because they’re not mainstream. Finding inspiration is great! But control your inspiration, don’t let it control your writing. Go out there and search for subjects your story can fit into, research those hot subjects, and form your story around it. Don’t let your writing happen, MAKE it happen. As a side note, this isn’t talking about writer’s block. I get writer’s block and moments where I’d rather jam splinters into the quick of my nails rather than write. I do take time off (kicking and screaming, usually) but it’s not to let inspiration find me. Instead, I take time off to examine what’s wrong with the story, and why I don’t want to write it. It’s normally something as simple as not fully understanding my characters wants or needs.
Avoid tropes like they’re the plague. Don’t skip the tropes. Sure, there are certain things that sound like they’ve been overdone. If you look online for fantasy themes that people are tired of reading, and you try to implement all of them, you’re not going to have a story. Why’s this? Because there’s no original ideas. Furthermore, people rely on tropes to identify genres. You have a fantasy book, but want to avoid having too many tropes. Suddenly, it’s not really fantasy any longer. “I’m sick of reading about elves!” All right, then find a new genre to read. “OMG don’t tell me this is another story of a farmer that gets wrapped up in an adventure! Cry me a river. “Oh look, this is a story about a rich person who gets pulled into an adventure (yawn).” Okay, then what the hell should we write about? A middle-class, boring person? Tropes are there for a reason. For many genres it’s what helps sell your books. Honestly I’ve gone through fantasy tropes to make sure my books use them. Ignore the rules for writing on this one.
Don’t use three words when you could use one. Actually…this is good advice. But, like all rules for writing you decide to use, implement it when editing and revising. Don’t worry about it for the first draft.
Use active words instead of passive. Another bit of good advice to use when editing.
Active: The car suddenly stopped, flinging Martha forward.
Passive: The car came to a sudden stop. Martha was flung forward.
The big issue here is too much passive narrative can make the story boring. Keep people intrigued with active language.
Never use words ending in -ly. This is rubbish. Have the people who write these rules for writing ever read? People aren’t going to pass your book by because you use the suffix -ly here and there. Just look through Harry Potter and see how often J. K. Rowling uses them. I will wait.
Avoid comparing things with “like” and “as if.” Some of my favorite books use comparisons. Her eyes were as green as leaves. or Excitement bubbled through her stomach like hundreds of butterflies freshly birthed from their cocoon. It gives me a visual, and I enjoy it.
Honestly, this list could go on forever. There are people out there who want to beat us to death with rules for writing. Just write. Do it. Don’t worry about the rules because the rules mostly suck. Why color within the lines when you could explore outside the lines and make something amazing?
At the end of the day, it’s your writing. If you’re happy with it, to hell with all of the rules and all of those people who tell you the dos and don’ts of writing.