Give yourself permission to break the rules!
…especially when those rules aren’t working for you!
I know that the people who come out with THE RULES are coming from a good place, they want to help you be the best, most succesful author you can be. I do sincerely wish, though, that they’d frame it in a way that doesn’t convey such a “You must follow these rules or else YOU SUCK AND YOUR BOOK WILL SUCK (if you finish it) AND YOU WILL NEVER BE A SUCCESSFUL AUTHOR LIKE ME! kind of tone.
Are there some habits, tips and tricks that are generally helpful to most writers? Of course! But that doesn’t mean they’re helpful to all, and quite frankly I’m tired of the “otherwise you’re doomed to fail” subtext to many of these lectures. If you chain yourself to THE RULES when you organically write best by not following them, then you won’t write your best story, and NaNoWriMo may end with tears and frustration.
Here are some of the rules that I most frequently see…
- You must have an outline, or else you will flail around and lose track of the plot!
- Not having character sketches means your heroine will flipflop between blonde and brunette (and not intentionally)!
- Write about what you know.
- Force yourself to write, even when the muse is nowhere to be found and you’ve stared at a blank screen for more than thirty minutes.
- Write every single day.
And my thoughts on them…
- I have never used an outline, ever. I hate them. I always have a general idea of where I want everything to go, but my characters (and my subconscious) continuously surprise me. There are times when I’ve been stuck on how to get a character out of a pickle, but when I sit down and just start writing, the answer magically presents itself…I like to think it’s my subconscious rewarding me for not overthinking everything.
- My character sketches are limited to their defining physical characteristics, where they went to school, names of their family members and any other interesting tidbits that I want to make sure influence their actions. In the time that I would spend writing an entire dossier on the character’s motivations, I could have probably cranked out thousands of words of novel writing. I’m lucky that my characters are very clearly pictured in my brain, so I refer back to that when asking myself “What would this character do in this situation?” It tends to write itself after that.
- Well, writing about what you know is a rule I don’t mind, as long as it includes all the research I’ve done. For those who would stubbornly ask “Well, what do you know about CIA agents in Bulgaria investigating organized crime?” I assure them that if I wrote about “what I personally know,” it would be a very boring book and I’d apologize to anyone who read it. I much prefer the “write about what you love,” or rather, “write about a topic you’re interested in or passionate about.”
- Staring at a blank computer screen because YOU’RE NOT ALLOWED TO LEAVE UNTIL YOU WRITE SOMETHING sounds like a brilliant idea! Yeah, no. Get up and do something that stimulates your creative flow…my favorite tip is to set a timer and give yourself 30-45 minutes to read/re-read a great e-book about writing novels, character sketches, etc. There are TONS of them out there for free. Going bananas on a random writing prompt often works too.
- I’m awesome at feeling guilty. If I required myself to write EVERY SINGLE DAY of NaNoWriMo, I’m telling you here and now that I’d never finish, because I’d get discouraged after “falling behind.” Cut yourself some slack…life happens, work happens, ill health happens, family happens. Feeling guilty over those things that you can’t control (or worse, staying up until 2am to make sure you wrote something) is a self-destructive cycle. Before November 1st, do a quick self-analysis…how much do you normally write in a day? My minimum is 2000 words, and sometimes more than that when I’m really on fire. As long as you blow the suggested word minimum out of the water when the muse is singing your song, everything will even out and you’ll finish your novel by November 30th!
What is your favorite writing rule to break?