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Life is complicated.  Writing is even more complicated than that.  Maybe that’s why writing rules are so popular, because they make writing sound so much easier.  Just follow these simple rules and your writing will be good, guaranteed!

When I first started writing, I took these rules very seriously.  I used to agonize over my work.  Did I break a rule here?  What if I broke a rule there?  What should I do if two rules seem to contradict each other?

I actually had a notebook full of all the rules I’d read about or heard about.  There was a lot of stuff in that notebook.  But then my muse came along.  For those of you who haven’t met my muse before, she’s the little fairy person who hovers over my shoulder and nags me whenever I’m not writing.     For a while, my muse liked to tell me that writing rules are made to be broken.  Then she thought of a cleverer way to phrase it:

So it’s with some trepidation that I’ve decided to start the New Year by setting some new writing rules for myself. But really, these “rules” are more like lessons learned from bad writing experiences.  They’re meant to keep me from repeating the same mistakes that I’ve made over and over again in my writing life.

  • When a new idea pops into your head, stop everything and write it down, because good ideas don’t stick around in the brain for long.
  • Don’t talk about currently active writing projects with anyone, at least not until the editing phase, because you never really know what it is you’re writing until it’s finished.
  • Don’t try to fix every flaw you see (or think you see) in your work, because perfect writing is dull and the occasional flaw can provide its own unique charm.

Are these good writing rules?  Maybe.  If not, as my muse likes to say, I can always rewrite them! So what writing rules have you written—or rewritten—for yourself?

40 responses »

  1. I love your muse’s idea.
    Your second rule is a big one for me. I’ve made that mistake, more than once, and all that creative energy just… got wasted in the telling. It was a tough lesson to learn.

    Liked by 2 people

    • J.S. Pailly says:

      Yeah, I’ve made that mistake a lot too. I guess that’s obvious since I had to make a rule about it.

      Part of it for me was also that if I told someone what I was going to do in a story, I felt like I couldn’t change my mind later if the story led me in a different direction. I felt like I’d made promises and I didn’t want to break those promises. Better for me to just keep my mouth shut until I know for sure what the story is going to be.

      Like

  2. Scott Levine says:

    Good luck with the writing this year. I hope you reach whatever targets and goals you have for yourself. That goes for real life, too. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • J.S. Pailly says:

      Thank you! I’m not too keen on goal setting for this year, because that really didn’t go well for me last year, or the year before that. But I think I learned a lot about myself last year, and I want to make sure I don’t repeat the mistakes of 2018.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. emaginette says:

    I suggest adding: take chances. It’s the one I live by. 🙂

    Anna from elements of emaginette

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Yes! These are great. It took a while for me to learn them, but my writing life has been easier since then. The other lesson I’ve learned is to write what I want regardless of what’s popular at the moment because the emotions of my characters will feel more authentic.

    Liked by 1 person

    • J.S. Pailly says:

      That’s definitely true. Chasing trends really isn’t fun, and it usually doesn’t work anyway. Even if you come up with something good, by the time you finish writing it the trend is probably over.

      Like

  5. dtkrippene says:

    Good advice to get it all down before showing it to anyone. Nothing derails the creative process better than “alternate” opinions before a story is finished. I too, am a rule breaker of sorts, but I do so with caution. I started a ebook space opera recently, and had to shake my head at obvious editorial mistakes (not to mention formatting).

    On the SF front, one popular author suggested it’s less important to get all the science down pat, than it is be “weird enough”. Happy New Year, James.

    Liked by 1 person

    • J.S. Pailly says:

      Oh yes, editorial and formatting rules are something else. I want my work to be clean and easy to read. But I’ve had a lot of rules thrown at me about how the creative process is supposed to work. I’ve stopped obsessing about that stuff, and I think I’m better off because of it.

      I’m also getting less obsessed with scientific accuracy than I used to be. I just don’t want to make glaringly obvious mistakes. Otherwise, the story comes first.

      Thanks a bunch, and happy New Year to you as well!

      Like

  6. Sarah Foster says:

    Great advice! I always try to write everything down, even if it’s just a sentence idea, because the odds of me remembering it once I’ve pushed it to the back of my brain are slim.

    Liked by 1 person

    • J.S. Pailly says:

      Yeah, that’s my logic too. I had an idea last year and fortunately I got it down on paper in time. Turned out to be a really big and important one, and I know how easily I could have lost it!

      Like

  7. Whenever I’m asked to speak about writing, one of my rules is: don’t follow the rules! I’ve found so many newbie writers read a ton of books and articles and then freeze up for fear of doing it “wrong.” Even if they’re able to write, it comes out stilted because they’re trying to write by the “rules.” I tell my audience: write it first. It can be fixed later.

    Liked by 1 person

    • J.S. Pailly says:

      Yeah, I remember being one of those newbie writers. I’m sure there were good lessons in many of the rules I was told, but I ended up really holding myself back by obsessing over that stuff.

      Like

  8. chemistken says:

    Rule #1. Yep, learned that one the hard way.
    Rule #2. I rarely talk to anyone about my writing except for other writers.
    Rule #3 I recently read a few books by some of the big selling indie authors and realized some of them are even poorer writers than I am. But as long as they keep pumping out stories full of action and adventure, the readers apparently don’t care. Makes me believe even I could find readers who will read my stuff.

    Have a great 2019!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Lee Lowery says:

    I’m with you on #1. Sometimes I run across notes I’ve made that I’ve completely forgotten, and think, “wow – I still need to write that story.” I just need to organize the notes a bit better so finding one isn’t an accident. As for #2, I’m beginning to think I should never talk about my writing projects, at least not with non-writers. My spin on #3 is to not “fix” anything until the first draft is finished, because those stories just take on a life of their own.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Like the new site theme!

    I think there’s value in learning the rules, but they’re only a scaffolding, something to be discarded as soon as they cease working or get in the way. If you’d prefer to read something that violates the rule rather than something that follows it, then violate it!

    “Don’t talk about currently active writing projects with anyone, at least not until the editing phase,”
    I think this is a good rule. I don’t make new year’s resolution, but I do sometimes make resolutions. But in my case, talking about what I’m going to do too often triggers some kind of reward in the brain, one that often takes away the impulse to actually do it. So I rarely talk about what I’m going to do, unless I need the cooperation of others. I don’t allow myself that reward until it’s done.

    Liked by 1 person

    • J.S. Pailly says:

      Thanks! The new theme is still kind of a work in progress, but I’m happy with it so far.

      That’s a good way to explain it: that talking about plans triggers some sort of reward system, or something like that. I don’t know if that’s what’s going on with me, but ever since I went quiet about what I’m writing, I do feel more motivated to write each day. So maybe.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Juneta says:

    I think they are great writing rules. I talk about mine to much and I think it has affected me a bit, but shaking it off.. Happy IWSG.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Good for you to make your own rules! The only rule I’d be wary of that you wrote is the last one. I think it depends on what you mean by “flaws?” I think we, as writers, should always try to take care of “flaws.” The other rules you wrote I agree with totally! Happy new year!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Diane Burton says:

    I like your rules, James. #1 is my fav and what I do. I have a Word file with my ideas. After I write down the idea, I get back to my WIP. It’s too easy to jump from project to project. A new idea is like “shiny!” More fun than what I’m currently writing. I have to remember that other rule: finish the darn book! Good luck.

    Liked by 1 person

    • J.S. Pailly says:

      Thanks, and same to you. The shiny new idea problem hit me pretty hard last month. But sometimes you just have to go where the creative winds take you. I got back to my main project eventually, and the time away from it was probably good for me.

      Like

  14. Made to be rewritten – I like that. And yes, some of those rules followed to the letter make for dull or awkward writing. One of my books originally had no words that ended in ly. One of my critique partners begged me to put a few in there as it read awkward.

    Liked by 2 people

    • J.S. Pailly says:

      The no adverb thing was a big one for me too, and I remember going through all sorts of verbal gymnastics to avoid them. I get that too many adverbs is a problem, but they’re in our language for a reason.

      Like

  15. CV Grehan says:

    Three rules. Even I can remember three. Thank you! (I always enjoy your illustrations!)

    Liked by 1 person

  16. K.J. says:

    I like your rules. I think I’ll adapt them as well. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  17. The problem with writing rules is that they’re not always universally applicable, but people act like they’re law. “I don’t outline; that’s not how I write,” says one writer. Another replies, “No, you HAVE to outline,” because that’s what works for him.
    I think it’s good to examine and be familiar with all the “rules,” and use them as a guide, but it’s also good to know when to break them in order to suit your purposes.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. I’ve got an idea notebook for that very reason. If I’m not home, I just email it to myself to move into the notebook later.

    Liked by 1 person

    • J.S. Pailly says:

      Good way to do it. I’m still trying to put a good system in place for myself. Right now, I’m trying loose papers in folders, so that it’s easy to move ideas from one project folder to another. But we’ll see how that goes. I can always try other things if that doesn’t work for me.

      Like

  19. “…perfect writing is dull and the occasional flaw can provide its own unique charm.” Yes, and the flaws add a distinct flavour to your work which in turn helps to shape your writing voice.
    Great artwork!
    Happy New Year!
    Writer In Transit

    Liked by 1 person

    • J.S. Pailly says:

      Exactly! Based on some of the other comments, I see this is the most controversial of my new rules. But the thing is, when I start removing the flaws I find in my work, my beta readers often tell me to put them back. So there must be something good about them; either that or I’m just really bad at judging what is or is not a flaw in my own work.

      Like

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