A Question: Should You Follow The “Writing Rules”?

Should You Follow the Writing Rules?

by Rose Gilbert
Amelia Island Ghostwriters

Writing advice exists in abundance. Every book and article has another rule that is a “must” for all writers.

But is it all correct? What should you believe and what should you dismiss? This is a tricky question that most writers deal with at some point in time.

Here are a few of the most often mentioned pieces of advice…

Every writing book will tell you “Show don’t tell”. This, of course, is true. Especially in fiction. But not always. The purpose is to make your reader see your story. You want them to feel like they’re there watching the action. However, if you wrote this way throughout an entire book it would be extremely long and the pace would feel frantic. At some point you’ll need to use a narrative or “telling” voice to show the passage of time.

“Write what you know”. Again, this is good advice, but eventually not possible. I love where I live but I can’t set every book in Fernandina Beach, Florida. Eventually you have to branch out and write about other places and people different from yourself. As a ghostwriter I’ve written about many topics that I knew nothing about – until I started doing research. Then I learn enough to write accurate articles and eBooks about the subject. With the right research skills you can learn to write about almost any topic.

Another often quoted piece of advice is “You must write every single day, no matter what!” I write five days a week unless I’m sick or on vacation. I know other writers who prefer to work in other ways. They might carve out a month to work on a specific project and then take a break for a few weeks. These people are usually not full-time writers, they are business owners who want to write books to add to their authority or use as a sales tool. The point is, work can be produced in more than one way. Do what works best for you.

“Plot or plan everything out before you write.” This is another piece of advice that I personally agree with and use. This is especially true when I write non-fiction. I never start without at least a brief outline of the highlights of my article or eBook in place. With fiction, I still have the basic plot of my book written down – though the characters sometimes take off in their own direction and everything changes.

“Never plot ahead of time. Let the story go where it wants to go organically.” This is the panster’s creed. (A panster being one who writes by the seat of their pants and never plots ahead of time.)

No one can tell you which of the above two pieces of advice to follow. You have to experiment with both methods and see which way works for you. In a lot of cases, a new writer can set herself up for writer’s block by using the panster method. You get somewhere in the middle of your project and have no idea where to go next. If this turns out to be true for you then you should consider at least a basic outline.

I suggest following writing advice long enough to learn the reasoning behind the rule. Then, if it doesn’t work for you or your readers — dump it and try something else.

Last but not least here’s a tidbit of advice from one of my favorite writers:

“If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy.” – Dorothy Parker

I think we’d best forget about that one. 😉

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