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“Don’t Tell Me How to Write!” Why We Need Writing Rules (+ Big Updates)

Do I really need to follow someone else’s rules for my writing?

Hi everyone!

Today I have some big blog updates to share with you, as well as the weekly article.

Blog Updates

So I’ll get this out of the way, and keep it short.

Update #1:

I’m finally going to college in a couple of weeks, and I’m super excited, but also super stressed.

It will be a good experience for me, however, that means I’ll have less time to blog. While I plan to keep posting once a week, I may need to write shorter posts, especially in August.

And Update #2:

I have an intern! 🎉🎉 Her name is Taylor and she is awesome. You can read her bio on the About page.

Be sure to stick around because she’ll be writing blog posts in the near future, and we should all give her posts some love. She’s a great intern, and I’m super excited to work with her!

Okay, that’s all the updates I have. Now for the blog post.


“Don’t Tell Me What to Write!” Why We Need Writing Rules

Twitter strikes again.

I’ve met some wonderful people on Twitter. I can make connections with other writers who support me and my writing journey. The #WritingCommunity is like one big family, and we all try our best to build each other up.

But sometimes, I wish Twitter would take a hike. And never come back.

GIF by Giphy QA
(Image by GiphyQA on Giphy.com)

The other day, I made the grave mistake of logging on to my Twitter account at the wrong time and almost getting involved in a Twitter squabble.

But I know better than to get in a fight on Twitter.

So instead, I’m going to calmly and professionally share my opinion here on my blog, because that’s what grown ups do. Right?

In all seriousness, though, I think this is a great learning opportunity for all of us.

The Topic in Question

Do I really need to follow someone else’s rules for my writing?

Are adverbs okay? Can we use semicolons? And why does everyone tell me that my story’s too cliche?

We’re writers, right? We create art. Nobody else has the right to tell us what to say.

About a week ago, when I saw the Twitter thread that inspired this blog post, some of the writers were furious.

“What’s so wrong with ******* adverbs?”

“Don’t tell me what to ******* write!”

“I don’t need people to tell me how to do my job!”

This got me thinking (and I was tempted to reply to the thread, but thought better of it). Is it right to enforce writing rules? Is it right for editors to restrict someone else’s writing?

Art is Personal

Maybe some of these writers had a point.

Art is a personal experience, and if you tear down someone’s whole story, you’re tearing down a piece of them. That writer poured their heart and soul into this story, and now, you’ve told them that it’s useless, garbage, or “too predictable.”

As someone who has received this type of blunt criticism before, I understand how much it hurts.

However, not all critics are going to say this.

Here’s a couple of the key differences between tearing someone down and giving them constructive criticism:

Tearing downConstructive critiques
The story can’t be fixedThe story is fixable
The characters are badHere are some specific details to make your characters more realistic
Unsolicited adviceWould you like to hear some of my thoughts? (and respect it if they say “no”)

Many new writers don’t understand the differences. They see all feedback as a personal attack.

They don’t have enough experience to know what’s helpful and what isn’t.

However, if you want to be published, win contests, or get more readers, it’s a good idea to follow the writing rules.

Learn and Observe the Basic Rules

Like with any game, there are some standard rules to follow.

  • Spelling
  • Grammar
  • Plot structure
  • Conflict
  • Character
  • Dialogue

Of course, I can’t talk about all of the writing rules that publishers will expect you to know.

But here are some rules that I wish more writers would follow and take to heart.

  • Capitalize properly and do a basic spellcheck.
  • Don’t say “I hate the rules” and ignore your story’s structure. You’ll end up with a really crappy plot.
  • When a publisher has their own guidelines, respect them.

There are also rules about dialogue.

  • No talking heads (characters talking without any conflict)
  • No characters who are in complete agreement about everything
  • No info dumping in dialogue

I’m a judge for the Reedsy short story contests, and one of the rules is no explicit language. You wouldn’t believe how many authors use the f-word in their first sentence.

Why Every Writer Should Follow the Basic Rules

Do you want to have a shot at getting published? Do you want to win that story contest?

The people who will read your story read dozens of other stories every day.

To be completely frank, if you break the rules, that’s not brave or creative. It just looks sloppy.

A lot of writers like to point fingers and say, “That famous author broke the rules, and s/he made millions of dollars. So why should I have to follow rules?”

When you are famous, you can break the rules. But when you’re still a small name, you can’t afford to risk your career.

(Please note: if you don’t want to be published, and you don’t want to attract readers, you’re welcome to break any rules you like.)

The Rules Exist to Make Your Writing Better

Adverbs and semicolons are under a ton of criticism.

So many authors love their adverbs, and they get mad when you try and take the adverbs away.

But which is better?

She looked at her son; tears started to roll down her cheeks. She cried softly and sadly as tears rolled quickly and quietly down her face.

Or:

She gazed at her son as tears clouded her vision. A whispered groan slipped out of her as she sunk to the floor, tears streaming down her face.

It isn’t perfect, but the second one is much easier to picture.

That’s what the rules are all about.

Your readers should be able to picture the story in their heads.

Learn How to Take Critiques

(Image courtesy of Pexels)

If this post made you feel a little bit defensive, it might be good for you to learn how to accept critiques.

Notice that a critique is different than criticism.

If you would like to learn how to accept feedback, don’t stress about it. It’s a slow process, and you can take it one step at a time.

1. First, you’ll need some beta readers.

This can be your family, your friends, or other writers.

Expect some brutal honesty, but make sure that it won’t damage your relationship with these people.

Some writers like feedback from online friends. Others like feedback from close friends and family.

2. Ask very specific questions and don’t worry about the rest.

Do you want to brush up on your grammar? Do you want to make your plot better?

Ask for what you want. That way, you can focus on the feedback that’s important to you.

When you feel comfortable, you can work your way up to more general critiques.

In Summary

  • The rules exist for a reason.
  • If you want to compete with other writers (in contests, publication, etc.), you need to follow the rules.
  • Start learning how to accept critiques and develop a thick skin.
  • You’ll get the hang of it!
(Image courtesy of Pexels)

Thanks for reading, and I’ll be back next week with a new article!


7 replies on ““Don’t Tell Me How to Write!” Why We Need Writing Rules (+ Big Updates)”

Thanks for reading! And well said. If a writer wants to break the rules, they should be conscious of the effect that might have on their writing. But art is always up to the creator! 😁

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