Author W. Somerset Maugham famously said, "There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are."
Maybe there aren't any rules per se, but there are suggestions given often enough that they almost seem like rules for writers. Yet three of those "rules" I regularly break.
"Just vomit the words on the page."
Many successful authors suggest you write as quickly as possible and with wild abandon. Theories abound that you can tap into that deeper, truer subconscious when you spill your story onto the page like a rushing waterfall.
I'm sure this method works for many, and I encourage writers to give it a shot. However, I've discovered my own "muse" cannot be trusted with such carte blanche. She turns out a lot of horrible drivel that way.
I don't like having to throw out 20,000 bad words I wrote in a hurry when I could slow down and make sure what I'm putting down is the best I can do. I simply don't write well at a breakneck speed, so instead I write at the more measured pace that works for me.
"Turn off your internal editor."
In the same vein is this idea that you should never edit as you go. Rather, you must shut off the pesky internal editor that wants you to fix errors right now.
I agree you shouldn't be editing with a fine-tooth comb pages you may well toss into the dumpster — that's a waste of good writing time. However, I edit some while writing a draft.
1. I start each day going back through the last scene I wrote and tweaking as I go. That gets my brain back into the story but also quiets the little voice in my head that has been wondering since yesterday if "plucked" would work better than "yanked" in that last scene.
2. When I realize I have a plot or character problem/inconsistency, I go back and fix it where it occurs. Some people simply write a note in the margin or asterisk where they need to fix the plot hole or keep a running list of issues to address later. However, my brain goes too far down that wrong road if I don't go back and fix the problem as soon as I realize it's there.
Personally, I like my internal editor. She isn't too bossy, and she gives some helpful advice. But hey, that's just me.
"If you're blocked on a scene, just writing something, anything...just write!"
Writers write and claiming writer's block for days or weeks while you piddle and ponder is certainly no way to finish novels.
That said, when I really hit a wall, I need to step away from the laptop and do something non-writing related. Most of the time, my brain continues working through the problem in the background. Then I suddenly realize what the problem was and how to fix it — like right in the middle of cleaning a toilet or re-organizing my closet.
Would I have figured it out if I'd continued plowing through the scene, trying this or that? Or even jotting down questions and answering them? I doubt it.
I resolve certain plot or character problems better when I'm nowhere near my novel — while walking the neighborhood or taking a shower or petting the cat or even doing laundry. So for me, no more plugging through a scene if it isn't working. It's better for me to take a day off and work out the kinks than keep writing.
Those are three writing "rules" I regularly ignore. Because I've learned that my process varies from these tips that do work for others. And I have to trust my own process.
What about you? What writing "rules" do you regularly break, because you've discovered something else works better for you?
Julie Glover writes cozy mysteries and young adult fiction. Her YA contemporary novel, SHARING HUNTER, finaled in the 2015 RWA® Golden Heart®. When not writing, she collects boots, practices rampant sarcasm, and advocates for good grammar and the addition of the interrobang as a much-needed punctuation mark.
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