Rules? What Rules?

Hunting for advice on the internet is like going clothes shopping. Sure, something might look good on the rack, but sometimes when tried on it doesn’t fit, or is just plain ugly.

While I don’t remember much of my early days among the online writing community, I do recall seeing certain pieces of advice over and over again, especially “show, don’t tell”. The problem with having people set rules in place for writing is they simply don’t work for everyone.

In relation to “show, don’t tell”, there are places where telling, generally defined as narrative summary (saying something happened rather than giving a blow-by-blow account), is more effective than showing certain events through action. Transition scenes often fall under the category of “telling”, especially when the author needs to get characters somewhere quickly without wasting time on a fully fleshed-out scene that ultimately serves no real purpose. That’s one case when “telling” is more effective than “showing”.

Word count goals also fall under the umbrella of subjectivity. While one writer may write 1,000 words a day, another may struggle to get 200. That doesn’t mean either writer is doing something wrong. They’re simply using their own method. The idea that writers need to write every day is another. Sometimes it’s just not practical.

Many people say you shouldn’t edit while still writing the first draft of a story, while others successfully edit as they go. Some people advocate social media, while others say it sucks too much time away from writing. We live in a world of contradictions.

There’s only one way to deal with conflicting advice: choose what works for you. My own methods are chaotic, and certainly aren’t recommended by professionals, but they work for me. Some writers are plotters, others are pantsers. It takes time and experimentation to discover your ideal technique. It’s important not to let someone else’s idea on how writing should be force you into working in a way you find ineffective or don’t enjoy.

You should take any writing advice or rules with a healthy dose of skepticism. It okay to try new things, but don’t be afraid to ditch anything that is detrimental to you or your writing, even if it’s something I said… especially if it’s something I said.

2 thoughts on “Rules? What Rules?

  1. After reading about and listening to interviews of writers, I realised the same.

    You have to experiment and find what works for you.

    One writer whose advice I have taken to heart for years now is Mur Lafferty. She started her podcast (I Should Be Writing) before she had anything published. Now she has several books out (a few are self-published) and writes for magazines regularly. She interviews other authors and such as well.


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