Writing is Hard, Don’t Make it Harder by Following Bad Advice
Every once in awhile I come across a list or a blog article letting me know that I’m doing it all wrong. It happens often on Twitter as well (Follow Here), everybody coming up with their own rules for writing.
This article is not about so-called rules, it’s about 3 things I’ve heard that I have found flat-out unhelpful. Of course, your experience may vary, but I’ll be leaving these ones alone.
#1: You Must Always Be Writing
Not only do I disagree with this advice, it has made me worse as an author on many occasions. Now, we need to draw a quick distinction about who this wisdom is aimed toward. If you’re a professional writer who needs to have things done by quickly approaching deadlines, perhaps this carries some weight.
For me, however, forcing myself to always be writing is anything but positive. In fact, some of the best sessions I’ve ever had at my laptop came after extended breaks from my manuscript. It’s so nice to let a piece ‘marinate’ for awhile. Go for walks, read books, watch TV shows, spend time with family and at your ‘other’ job. Watch people, interact with nature, learn a new skill. These things will pour themselves into your writing and you’ll find it richer than ever.
Forcing the craft to be a mechanical and arduous job does not lend itself well to creativity. Fresh eyes, time to think of new ideas, and a little break now and then is often the best possible thing for a writer.
#2: Keep a Book to a Certain Word Count
This one has some practical merit I’m sure, though it will do little to make your story better. It is cheaper to edit and print a shorter book, there is no doubt. Also, some writers become quite verbose and need the extra encouragement to stay on point. However, telling your story by word count alone is an awful idea.
I have read books of all shapes and sizes, and so has everybody who reads. The bestsellers list is full of books that are over 600 pages long. In fact, it’s really hard to find anything written by the authors I seek out that would fit into a nice word count chart.
Yes, your genre matters. An epic fantasy takes much longer to tell than an urban crime thriller (sometimes). My point is, books don’t get read because they’re 80,000 words long. People gravitate toward stories, deep and engrossing tales of human (or not) adventures. Never sell your story short for a certain number of words. And if you doubt that a longer book can get published, look at some popular books of the last ten years and see if that’s true. In many cases, you can argue exactly the opposite. Great books get published, and I won’t say another word about it.
#3: Never do Something
Never use adverbs, never tell instead of show, never start with a dream, never use certain words too many times, blah blah blah.
My advice is to do anything you need to do for the story, no matter what it is. “Never” rules come from a good place, they’re people trying to make this writing thing easier. If we can just stick ‘never’ on that, then we have a rule that will make us better. Except, it doesn’t. The story needs to read well, needs to flow, and should tell your great story without seeming too much like writing. If an adverb sounds better than always looking up the next best verb, then use it.
It’s interesting being a writer and studying the greats of the business. What stands out to me oftentimes, is how frequently the best writers in the world ignore the rules the most. I remember reading something Stephen King said about dialogue and then cracking open The Gunslinger. Not only did he not follow his own advice, it appeared he mostly did the opposite. That’s not to say he was wrong to say what he said, again it comes from a good and helpful place. It is to say, however, that every single rule comes in a distant second place to writing a great story.
There Are More, For Another Day
I seem to have thought of dozens more things I wanted to say as I wrote this article, but we’ll save them and continue it another day.
Remember to write with your heart and soul, it’s the only way to truly create a beautiful thing. If rules are limiting you or cramping your story, throw them out! Your individual voice and style are your best shot at standing out in a crowd, let them shine.
In the meantime, happy writing!