Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Rules of Writing are Killing My Mojo

I'm a big-time rule follower. This is an issue for me as a writer. A big-time issue. Attending cons, workshops, writing group meetings, reading how-to craft books, getting sage advice from writerly folks, and taking in all the rules of writing have clogged my creativity. 

I've become so rigid in following all the rules, my fiction is in deep doo-doo. 

I spend more time making sure my writing is free from: 

-dangling participles
-passive language
-too many adjectives
-grammar mistakes
-too much backstory
-beginning w/ dream scenes
-flat characters
-boring beginnings
-unrealistic dialogue
-reallys & verys & thats
-tense changes
-POV changes
-weak & whiny MCs
-and gosh forbid, more telling than showing...

That my writing sucks! I'm so busy critiquing while I write, I can't get a darn thing, worth a toot, down on paper.

I've snuffed out my own creative spark!

I recently got a critique back commending me on the ms being free of was / were and passive language. Problem is, the ms lacks luster. In simple terms, it stinks.

What's a writer to do? Learn when and when not to break / bend the rules. Easier said than done for this rule follower.

I like what Rachelle Gardner says, "Rules are just tools." 

I made the decision this morning to try and follow Rachelle's advice from now on. 

Once, back before I became such a big-time rules of writing follower, I wrote straight from my heart, listened to my creativity. I know I can be that kind of writer again.

What are your thoughts? Are you a rigid writing rule follower? If so, do you let it affect your creativity?


  1. I don't think too much about rules in the first draft, but I do try to think about them as I revise. Unless I reach a part where I disagree with the rule. Then I ignore it. ;)

  2. I'm with Rachel. Rules are for revisions and critiques. A first draft needs to be organic and from the heart of the writer.

  3. I think you have to draft wild, CF. What I mean by that is, really focus on letting your imagination and the characters go free. Don't worry about who is going to read and judge it. Editing will take care of the sloppiness, and as you successfully get through a few complete revision cycles, your drafts will just naturally get better.

    Be as bold as you can dare to be when you draft, rules be damned. :)

  4. Only when you break free from rules will your voice be heard! ;)

  5. Funny you should mention that. Another author and I are experiencing that at the moment.

  6. Just write! Don't think about the rules until later. That's why I enjoy challenges like NaNo. It forces me to just write.

  7. I know exactly what you mean. It's been plaguing me for over a year and I've gotten very little accomplished. I agree with the above authors -- Just write! -- but I find I can't do it. I can't concentrate if I feel I'm leaving a big ugly mess behind me. It's like making lasagne, putting it in the oven and walking away, leaving ingredients and dirty pans and bowls everywhere. I can't sit and watch TV if I know there's yucky stuff all over my counters. So I'm forced to go back and clean, just as I'm forced to go back edit before I can go on to the next chapter. But I'm wishing you find your writing mojo soon! :-)

  8. That is exactly what I was running into the last couple of weeks. I think I've finally given myself the green light to suck it up and get it out there. I'm a wiz with revisions, so why not get the skeleton down on matter how many rules I break or holes I leave?!

    As James Thurber said, If you can't get it right, just get it written!

  9. "Rules" that I do break: the Telling not Showing thing--sometimes it's actually best to tell not show. The no-adverb rule: adverbs exist in our language for a reason--sometimes they are quite effective in a line. Also, sometimes it's better to use a punchy tag line like decided or threatened instead of the tried and true tag, "said". Most of the others on your list I follow. That said, in a first draft it makes no sense to get too hung up about the rules. Save that for your second, third, tenth draft!

  10. I hear y'all. Really I do! Turning off the left brain and allowing my right brain is not easy for me, but only here, recently. I'm not even sure what set this pattern in motion.

    I love what EJ says, "write wild". And how Donna says it needs to be organic & from the heart.

    Great quote Mary Ann!

    Thanks for giving me your input and the rules you do or don't break, Catherine. I forgot all about the tagline rule. LOL. But yes I agree with you.

    Thanks to all who've commented. It seems I'm not the only one plagued by this either. I may end up contacting some of you to ask permission to use your idea / comment on my IWSG post in November. You all have such great insight and I appreciate it. :)

  11. Oh, and an update: So yesterday, I attempted to write from my heart, keeping my inner critic at bay. For the most part I failed, but there were tiny glimpses of hope shining through. It still took me over an hour to draft a stupid page, but at least I got 'er done. I'm offline for the next two hours to write some more.

  12. I just went through this phase myself. I'm kind of coming out on the other side. My trouble is that, when I'm not inspired while writing a scene, the lines come off boring and plain.

    I've been telling myself - this week, as a matter of fact - that 'That is okayyy. Just get the basics down; you can go back and polish it up later.' And the encourager me is right. What good is it to spend an hour trying to find the right phrase or word? Just git-er-done. LOL It's easier to see what you SHOULD have written once you have a rough draft to read through.

    Good luck. :)

  13. The rules are stifling. I know a lot of writers who blow off rules deliberately. One, whose book is being sniffed out for a movie deal, deliberately disregarded the "show not tell" rule and did a lot of telling, but it worked for his book (obviously). I think they are there as guidelines but the most inspired writing comes from the heart-- sometimes incorporating the rules, sometimes thumbing a literary nose at them.

  14. I'm glad a lot of commenters already told you to just write a little crazy, because I definitely agree. I've even gone so far as to deliberately litter my pages with particularly egregious adverbs and nasty dialogue tags (she muttered angrily ... ) to prove to myself that I fully intend to go back and clean this up. At the same time, I forbid myself to look back at what I've written, because that way I keep the story in my head but not the messiness of the language I'm using to tell it.
    Luckily, I'm usually pleasantly surprised by how straightforward a job it is to clean up the writing in revision. You clearly know what the rules are; I think that it's just tricky to apply them and create a story at the same time!

  15. Oh my, I do the same thing! Yet, when I read a lot of published books, they seem to break a lot of these rules. I guess the story is the most important - you have to have a great story.

  16. Glad you've come out on the other side, Melissa!
    Good to know, Julie.
    It is tricky, Kirsten. I agree.
    I find the same thing in books, CW in the blackberry patch. Sometimes I wonder about them. I ask myself, why are there so many "was" words on this page? How and why were they allowed? I spend hours just reworking text to rid them, and here a published book allowed it.

  17. It frustrates and saddens me to see how many modern writers feel duty-bound by a bunch of "rules" that didn't exist 50-100 years ago. Just look at any older book, and you'll see lots of things that writers these days rail against, like non-standard speaking verbs, a lot of adverbs, more telling than showing, and starting with backstory instead of right in media res.