Though I haven’t seen it myself there’s apparently a big stone tablet somewhere upon which someone has engraved The Rules of Writing. I’ve seen these rules transcribed on blogs, on websites and in books, and I’ve heard them vocalized by authors at speaking engagements and such. Whenever these rules are brought up it’s inferred that following them is the only way to write a book. Since writing books is now my career, I embraced these rules and attempted – oh, how I attempted! – to use them when I wrote.
You know what? I’m not so good at following rules. I routinely exceed that 40 mph speed limit going into town. I don’t sand before I prime and paint. After reading the first few chapters of a book I usually flip over to the last chapter and read the ending. I like to add ingredients not listed in the recipe when I cook. Sometimes it doesn’t work out very well and the results are less than stellar. But other times I end up just where I want to be with a lot less stress and worry. And I’ve found that ignoring some of the rules when I write is best for me. Here are three writing rules I never follow:
1) Write Every Day. How many people do you know who love to get up and go to work seven days a week, three hundred and sixty-five days a year? I’m guessing very few, if any. People look forward to their days off, that chance to kick back and relax, to spend time watching movies, go shopping, travel and spend time with friends and family, no matter how much they love their jobs. I’m the same way. Spending every single day working on my book is too much. I get tired of it, and when I get tired of something I tend to drop it like it’s hot. So I don’t write on the weekends. Those two days I spend with my family are just the short break I need to give me the energy to start writing again on Mondays. Do I think about my book on the weekends? Sure I do. And if something good comes to me on my days off I make a note of it and I let percolate in my head until Monday. But I do not write every day.
2) Outline and Plot Your Book. Despite the glowing recommendations I’ve seen on the joys of outlining and plotting, I’ve found it gums up the works where I’m concerned. The times I’ve tried it have left me frustrated and bored, and my story, though being outlined to within an inch of its life, has gone nowhere. It makes writing seem like a chore and the result that ends up on my hard drive is lifeless and flat. So I write by the seat of my pants. I know the story I want to tell, but I love it when it goes off in a direction I couldn’t have imagined. Sometimes I have to scrap parts of it, but most of the time it works out for the best.
3) Write What You Know. Have I got a book for you! It details the nuts and bolts of the broadcast media industry and includes all the boring day-to-day details of working at a radio station. Wanna buy it? No? Of course not. Unless your life’s goal is to work at a radio station using the methods we used in the 80s, 90s and early 2000s, you’d pass that kind of book up without even giving it a second glance. But that’s what I “know.” It was, after all, my job for over twenty years. I’m not saying I didn’t draw on aspects of that job when I started writing books, but I didn’t write about radio broadcasting. Yes, my first book is about fictional people in the music industry, but it’s not about music – it’s about those people. My second book is set in a radio station, but it’s not about radio – it’s about the people who work there. And let me tell you, the things that happen in those books is one heck of a lot more interesting than the reality of back-timing to the newscast, filling out music logs, recording commercials for the local hardware store or working every holiday because you’re the low man on the totem pole. So while I include facets of what I know and base characters and situations on people and events I know, I do not write only what I “know.”
I’m not saying that breaking these rules is for everyone, not by a long shot. Untold numbers of successful authors follow all the rules and it works out very well for them. However, untold numbers of successful authors toss out the rules that don’t work for them, and that works out well, too. If you’re a writer, don’t be afraid to do what’s best for you.
Note: I won’t be blogging on Thursday because of the Thanksgiving holiday, one of my days off! See you back here on Monday!