This week, since I’ve received a lot of questions about “the basics” of writing, I thought I would lump a few together.
Our first question comes from Lily in Ohio: I’m constantly seeing writing ‘rules’ posted on various loops. Some totally contradict each other and it’s confusing. Hooks, adverbs and gerunds. Grammar, subtext and POV, oh, my! My headÂ is swirling and I’m finding it more difficult to write for worrying I’m going about this all wrong. Help me, Gentle Writer!
Dear Lily…don’t fret over those nasty old rules of writing. They’re not really rules–except for the stuff about periods. You have to use periods, okay? Editors and agents will not buy you drinks at conferences if they realize you are the girl who uses no periods.
Ok … no … seriously, take a deep breath and step away from the internet. There is so little about this writing business that we can control that sometimes newer writers tend to hyper-focus on the stuff we can. Namely the rules. But the low down dirty ugly truth is that while knowing the basics of grammar and storytelling are important, mastering “the rules” won’t get you published any faster. And obsessing over the rules and which one is right or which one is wrong will only give you a migraine and a messed up liver from too much booze. I’ll be honest and tell you that I have no idea what subtext or gerunds are.
Oh, I probably would know them if you gave me examples, but if you said, “What’s a gerund?” I’d probably refer you to a doctor.
While I think it’s probably in the best interest of every writer to at least be on hand-shaking terms with Mr. Rules, eventually you will reach a point in your writing journey where you have enough confidence in your abilities to say, “Hey this rule just isn’t working for me. Â See ya later!” Â And you’ll kick it to the curb.
Instead of worrying about the rules, and whether you’re wrong or right, try to focus more on your own writing, on honing your craft, digging deeper with your characters, and ultimately, mastering the best way to write a book–for you! Â I know this might sound a bit blasphemous, but there is no right way to write a book. Â Some writers plot, some don’t (or it ruins the story for them), Â some *gasp* even write out of order or don’t type their manuscripts in Courier 12/TNR 14.
All most editors or agents want is a clean manuscript. Â They probably don’t care what font it’s in as long as they can read it. Â They don’t care about how perfect your story is; they’re looking to get sucked into your story the way you look forward to getting sucked into a book. Â Let me give you an example: my agent signed me on a manuscript written in multiple first person POVs when normally that’s not her thing. Â I rest my case.
And since this ended up being a longer answer than I’d intended, I’ll save the rest of the questions for another friday.
So, Dear Gentle Readers…what writing myths do you ignore? Â Cuz I KNOW I’m not the only rule-breaker out there in writerland, ya’ll!