18 January 2014

Writing rules I no longer follow

You know the ones? The internet is awash with these 'rules' as are writing magazines and books. I have been guilty of spouting them myself at one time - especially when I was green and starry-eyed and, let's face it, a bit full of myself.

So these are a few I have happily abandoned. But before I do, don't feel you have to do the same. That's the problem with rules or counter-rules. Trust your own judgement. If something works for you, then by all means do it. But don't beat yourself up if you cannot possibly do what others tell you to do. Having said that, it's a good idea to try them a few times but if they always fail, then it's not your fault. You a not a failure. Besides, failure is in the eye of the beholder.

I shall then end with a few nuggets of wisdom I have learned along the way that I truly believe in. You may not and you are probably a much more accomplished and successful writer than I could ever be. That's fine.

First list. Writing rules I no longer follow:

1. Always carry a notebook around with you. You wont remember things otherwise. (I've lost count of the notes I've jotted down. They either make no sense now or I can't find them and end up searching cupboards and old bags. [not the human variety, you understand.] If you forget, they weren't worth remembering. The essence always sticks with you.)

2. Make sure to maintain an internet presence. Without it, who will ever know who you are and have a book worth reading? (This may well be true for those who self-publish but I don't and have no intention of doing so, as you probably already know. There will be loads of you who think I'm a fool. Well, maybe I am. So be it. But I'd rather concentrate on being a better writer than getting to grips with all the latest gadgets. If this works for you, that's find but I always end up feeling stressed and inadequate.

3. You must write every day, however few words. (Balderdash! Writing creates a great many wasted words as a matter of course. So why add more because you're tired, stressed or feel you're no a writer if you don't. You'll only end up throwing even more away with the result you end up more depressed and convinced of your uselessness. This is another reason I loathe NanoWriMo. But if you love it, don't tell me. If it works for you. Fine. It does the opposite for me.)

4. If you wish to be published, only write for the market. (I say: be very aware of the current market - it changes more quickly than you think - however, at the same time the publishing process moves glacially. What's being published right now was probably written five years ago and conceived even earlier. Because of this, the market is volatile so make sure you enjoy what you write. You'll be stuck with it for a very long time.)

Second list. Writing advice I still believe in:

1. Read widely and voraciously. (All writers are readers first and foremost. You can't write if you are not book-crazy. But don't ignore what's being read now. Dickens and Jane Austen will never be bettered. BUT they wrote in totally different times. This is why those clever-slogs who type out Bleak House word for word and laugh when the rejections pour back in, [and yes, I mean you, Daily Mail] totally miss the point.)

2. Don't waste your time reading writing magazines, websites, blogs and books except when you're a total beginner or need an occasional kick up the backside or harmless enjoyment. (There's only so much that can be written about writing. Pick an author you admire and by all means read what they have to say. Be selective.)

3. Perfect your craft. Not by reading heaps of writing magazines and books in the hope that you'll 'discover' the trick, but by writing. When it suits you. Whether that means once a day, once a week, just do it. Don't procrastinate. Do it. If it turns out not to be for you, there's no shame in admitting it. But if it is for you, then do it until it's the very best you can make it. There'll always be someone who can write better than you - there always is - but if you keep working to make it better, it will be.

4. Finally, do remember it takes time. A lot of time. Luck does happen. Even I've had some and not all of it has been good for me in the long run. I've also had a load of dead-ends and disappointments - more than I would admit in public. What I also have is a stubborn belief that, one day, I'll get there. It might happen. It probably won't. But I shall always remain true to myself.


  1. Now that is some of the best advice I've read on writing. Thank you!

  2. Really good advice, Sally. I so enjoyed reading this. It reminded me of the man who fitted our Aga years ago. He gave me the manual that came with it and said, "Read it and forget it." I wasn't sure what he meant at the time. Later I realised that he was telling me to be aware of the dos and don'ts as a starting-point, but, as I became more experienced, to trust my own instincts and do things the way it suits me best.

  3. Another great post, Sally! This has come at just the right time for me, having had to take some time out due to illness. This gave me a lot of time to reflect on life generally and what's important. It's interesting that a lot of my thoughts on writing match yours. I'm about to cancel my writing magazine subscriptions for a start. I am thoroughly sick of Facebook and self-promotion. I'm tearing up the rule book and once I'm fully fit I'll be tackling a new novel in my own sweet way. Thank you for your sound advice, as always.

  4. Great post and I heartily agree.