The One Rule for Writing

by Rachel Eliason

There is a lot of writing advice out there on the web, in books, and from various writing groups. I’ve been around for a while and literally had hundreds of people tell me the “rules” for writing. I’ve finally distilled them down to one master rule.

Don’t argue with success.

Every writer has their own process of planning (or not planning) their writing. Everyone has tips on mastering writers block, low motivation, and all those things that make writing hard some days. There are millions of opinions about what you should write, how you should write it, and what you should do with it when it’s done.

I am a firm believer that all of you can write. You can write short stories, novels, and even series successfully. You just have to figure out what works for you and what doesn’t. When writers tell me that they can’t finish their story, I believe they just haven’t found their process.

If you are a seat of the pants writer, planning may well kill your creativity. But if you aren’t a seat of the pants writers, being told to “just write” will kill your creativity just as effectively. I love storyboarding, but then again I am a visual thinker. For others, a storyboard just makes their eyes cross. The Snowflake Method is great for some people, some stories. Many veteran writers have worked out a system that is a hodgepodge of theories and ideas, but it works for them.

And that is the gold standard: it works for them. If the words are getting down on paper at a satisfying rate and you’re happy with those words, you are on the right track. This technique or that might help, and it’s worth keeping an open mind about new advice, but no one can tell you that you’re doing it wrong if you are getting the writing done.

I see this rule broken all the time. “But you can’t write that way,” a first time author will say to a veteran writer. Sorry, but obviously they can write that way, they’ve done it. I’ve seen planners slam seat of the pants writers in conferences and vice versus. And they’re both published authors.

It’s not just novel planning that gets treated to this sort of hubris. So many writers are certain that their personal opinion on writing, grammar, point of view, or story structure are the last words on the subject. And yet for almost every piece of advice on what constitutes good writing, there is an example of best sellers or great literature that breaks said rules.

First person is “such a beginner’s mistake” I’ve been told. Guess what, TwilightHunger Games and many other best sellers are first person. Many examples of great literature are not only first person, they feature unreliable or even unlikable narrators.

Your story should be x number of words long. Even though most of the rules on length were based on publishers wanting to publish print books of a certain size, and never had anything to do with the stories writers wanted to write, or readers to read. Never use a prologue. Unless it’s a great prologue that makes the novel better. And so forth and so on.

My personal one is finish what you write. It’s great advice for most people. If you intend to be writer, you need to finish what you start. But it doesn’t work for me.

I have ADHD. I’ve struggled my whole life with starting but not finishing things. I’ve tried many approaches or organizing and dealing with my ADHD. The only thing that seems to work for me is to embrace my ADHD.

I jump around a lot. I write every day, but I don’t write on the same thing every day. More organized writers are aghast when they see how I work. I write like mad on projects for days or weeks, only to abandon them, temporarily or permanently. I write more than one book at the same time.

I will write a scene for book A, take break. Then edit book B. Then write a couple scenes for book C. It’s a crazy way to write and I know it.

But you know what? I have nine full length novels on the market. A science fiction serial I release monthly. Four novels ready to be published this year. Several more in progress. So apparently even though it defies all common sense, this approach works for me. I’m not going to sabotage my own success because someone else is certain this is the wrong way to write.

I’m not saying you should throw every rule out the window or disregard all advice, especially if you are struggling. But filter it all through the first rule, don’t argue with success, yours or others. If another writer is getting words on paper and those words are good, don’t try to correct their technique just because. Will a change really make their writing better? Then it’s a good critique. But changing things to make them more “correct” according to some book, isn’t worth it.

By the same token, if you are getting your words on paper, don’t let someone tell you that you are doing it wrong. If those words set you on fire, who cares if they could be more “correct.” Don’t kill your voice to make it sound like everyone else out there. Write your stuff, your way. Do you.

Beth Burgmeyer

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