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Rules, and how not to follow them

2 December 2010

Perhaps because of the inordinate amount of publishing people I follow on Twitter, I hear a lot about rules. Rules for writing, rules for submitting to agents, rules for following the above rules. There are a lot of people out there who want to tell you that if you follow this rule, then this one, then this one, you have a good chance of getting your novel published.

I want to tackle the “rules for writing” bit (I always suggest following the agent’s rules if you want to submit to them — that’s just common sense). Writing is one of those things I don’t believe you can really put a set of rules on. Sure, you can tell people that waking up at 8 a.m. and writing until 5 p.m. (the “treat writing like a full-time job” rule) works for you, but you can’t say “this is how you should do it.” I’m a firm believer in letting each person find his or her own creative process and going with that.

The problem there is you can’t really tell anyone how to do that. You can’t tell them to get a Masters in Creative Writing first, or tell them to outline their stories, or to keep track of their word counts each day on a big whiteboard. The process is something you have to figure out for yourself.

With me, I write after my wife goes to bed. I put on some music or TV in the background, open up Notepad (because I’m old-school, yo), and write for four or five hours. That’s what I do — it might work for you, it might not. But if you’re a writer or other creative type (musician, visual artist, photographer, street performer [I would love to pick a street performer’s brain sometime]), you’ve probably already figured out what works for you. So don’t let anyone tell you any different, unless your current process isn’t working. Then, feel free to try on other processes for size until you hit on one that does what you want it to do.

So, you’re a creative bunch. What’s your process? What rules have you heard that you break when you sit down to make your art?

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Trace permalink
    2 December 2010 0751

    I don’t really so much have a process. I write when I have a minute. That’s why it takes forever to put out anything. Hey, maybe writing when I have a minute IS my process and adds immediacy to the text or somesuch shit. Ha!

    • 2 December 2010 2109

      I’d agree with that. Your words do have immediacy to them that I really dig.

  2. Nate permalink
    2 December 2010 0932

    Spot on with this entry. I tend to think process is the byproduct of experience. When one simply *does* writing often enough, the process naturally develops.

    That’s why I usually regard “rules for writing” as narcissistic and/or obnoxious. A writer could lay down a process roadmap that works perfectly for him or her, but another writer could try it out and find it to be mostly dross.

    Anyway, is “Don’t Procrastinate” a rule? If so, I’m pretty certain I break that one all the time. I always tend to do better when I’m under some pressure.

    • 2 December 2010 0936

      You make an excellent point about pressure. It’s not that I don’t work well when I’m not under pressure — I hardly work at all unless I’m under pressure. Ask anyone at my first magazine job.

  3. Brad permalink
    2 December 2010 2108

    My process is pretty simple. Get up in the morning, have coffee and breakfast, watch some TV, then fire up MSWord and try to bang out a thousand words or so. Sometimes I make it. Sometimes I don’t. Helps not to have much in the way of a day job.

    As for rules I (like to) break, how about making up words? I do that one all the time.

    • 2 December 2010 2111

      I make up words all the time too, sir. In real life as well as in fiction. My favorite are the compound words that really shouldn’t be.

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