Bending the Rules of Writing
If you’ve been a part of the writing community for any length of time, you’ve probably been told a million rules. Here’s the thing: writing is an art, and art has no rules. Take every piece of advice—yes, mine included—with a grain of salt, because that’s what it is: advice. Instagram posts and comments from beta readers aren’t laws you have to follow. At the end of the day, you get to use your judgment to make your writing look and feel the way you want it to.
So Why All the Rules?
Good question. If you don’t have to follow all the so-called “rules” of writing, why do they exist?
Most pieces of advice you’ll receive work for the majority of writers.
When it comes to writing processes, there are some steps that tend to help nearly everyone, and odds are, they’ll help you too. When it comes to the actual content you write, there are topics, tropes, and themes that attract more readers. When it comes to the way you write, there are styles that agents and publishers are more likely to pick up.
Following writing rules can help other people like your writing, but that doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do. Write for yourself. Write what you want how you want, and someone else will like it as is.
The rules are suggestions. If you are struggling to develop your characters, use the tips provided by other writers. If you get bored rereading the pages of description in your book, add some dialogue, as most authors suggest. Use the tips to help you, not restrict you.
Here are some widely accepted rules of writing and ways you might bend them.
Don’t Edit As You Write
Most writers agree that revising or editing previously written chapters as you write your first draft can make you procrastinate writing new chapters. I do too. It may be more efficient to spill everything in your head out during the first draft and leave the revising and editing to later drafts.
However, I do believe you can edit as you write if you take care to not linger on a single chapter for too long.
I, for instance, typically write a chapter per week. During that week, I allow myself to write and rewrite that chapter as many times as I need. Next week, I move on to the next chapter. Every few months, I give myself a week to revise everything I’ve written thus far. This way, I satisfy my burning wish to fix my writing while ensuring I continue progressing with the plot.
Your timeline may differ, but if you do choose to edit as you write, make sure you are able to stop editing and start writing.
Each genre has a standard word count range based on the complexity of its plot and the attention span of its audience. This is the length of the average book of that genre you will find in bookstores.
Many writers obsess over reaching the industry standard range. Depending on the writer, this could mean doubling the word count or cutting it in half. Unfortunately, this may result in books filled with unnecessary fluff or incomplete plots.
Standard word counts serve as a guide. Odds are, you will need 85,000 words to fully develop a young adult fantasy novel with a satisfying plot and proper worldbuilding. But, if you need more or less than that to tell the story you need to, don’t be afraid to stray from industry standard.
The important thing is getting your story across. Do not sacrifice your vision for your novel to adhere to what publishers expect. Read more about word count here.
You may have heard variations of this, such as ‘have and follow a writing schedule’ or ‘push through writer’s block and write a few hundred words.’ Honestly, the opposite should be a rule.
Take breaks. It’s much better for your writing and your health to set your writing aside for a few days (or weeks, if needed) than to force yourself to write.
However, this isn’t an excuse for procrastination or giving up. Take breaks to avoid burnout or make time for more important things, but avoid long periods when you don’t write because you’re rereading the same book for the hundredth time.
And remember, this is all just advice. Do with it what you please! The point of writing is to have fun and feel comfortable. Don’t let rules set by other writers dictate your process and style.
There are many other examples of writing advice that have come to be considered rules by the community. Though these may work for most writers, every author is different and may need to bend or break these rules at times.
What are some “rules of writing” you have broken? Let me know in the comments!