It Works For Me. My Personal Writing Rules.

Posted on 17th October, 2015

"There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are."

W Somerset Maugham.

Writers are always seeking advice and there is an abundance of it out there - websites, blogs, workshops, courses, magazines and How To books. Writers are always on the look-out for ideas that will help them improve their craft. When you find a practice that works for you, it becomes one of your personal writing rules.
With this in mind, I have invited some writer friends to share their own personal writing rules in the coming weeks. To get us started, here are mine:

Elegant paragraph links

The first thing I should say is that I didn't choose this one. It was drummed into me by English teacher, Mrs Trueman, who loathed writing that didn't flow naturally from one idea to the next. To this day, if my writing isn't flowing seamlessly, I hear her voice inside my head, demanding what she called elegant paragraph links and I automatically go back to smooth things out. I wish I was still in touch with Mrs Trueman, so I could tell her what a difference she made to my life with her elegant paragraph links.

Don't stop writing today unless you know how you are going to start writing tomorrow

I came across this piece of advice in an author interview in a Sunday glossy and adopted it right away. I can't claim, hand on heart, to follow it all the time, but I do try to. A few notes can be all it takes to get the words flowing the next day.

On a similar theme, I heard a suggestion recently that you should stop in the middle of a scene that is going well, so that you can easily pick up the threads tomorrow. Hmm. Not sure about that. If the scene was rolling onto the paper that fluently, would you stop?

Don't get it right - get it written

Ah, now we come to the tricky one. Last week I blogged about NaNoWriMo and the advice to suppress your inner editor while you storm your way to 50,000 words. But how many of us can actually do that? I know how hard I find it. My natural inclination is to edit as I go along. I just can't press on, leaving behind a scene that isn't right. If I do try to, I end up grinding to an uncomfortable halt.

So when I say, "Don't get it right - get it written," I don't mean chuck it all down on paper and save the editing for the second draft. I mean - don't agonise. Get it down on paper or on-screen (it's paper for me every time). Once it's there you can work on it if needs be, whether it's a paragraph, a page or a scene. But in the first instance, don't spend ages thinking about it. There's nothing more disheartening than a blank piece of paper.

So there they are - my personal writing rules. They might or might not be helpful to others, but they work for me. Are you a writer with a piece of advice to share? I hope you will enjoy comparing the various rules that crop up when other writers tell us what works for them.


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Comments (6)

You're quite right, Jen. Writing is a learning experience and developing your own voice is an essential part of the process. Thank you for those words "moderate editing" - I shall call it that from now on whenever I stop and polish instead of ploughing on!
A great topic, Susanna, and I'm looking forward to reading the posts in this series. I'm another one who falls into the editing the WIP trap but I've come to realise that 'moderate editing' is simply part of my process.

My most important writing tip is don't give up and trust your instincts. Each word you write helps you learn more about what works (and what doesn't) for you as a writer. And if you follow that inner voice and write from your heart, you won't go far wrong.
Thanks for your comments, Jan. I think the advice about not stopping to edit is a sticky one for a lot of people. Some of us find it immensely hard to plough on regardless, knowing that there are things that need changing. When I did Camp NaNo last April, I was determined to abide by the "No Editing" rule, so whenever I realised that changes needed to be made, I jotted down a few notes and left it at that. It seemed to be going well until I needed to write a scene that followed on from an earlier scene that needed serious editing. At that point my good intentions came to pieces, as I needed to write the earlier scene in order to explore how certain relationships were going to develop before I could write the later scene.
I think your rule number 3 is the lesson I've had to learn, Sue. I find it hard not to go back and try to improve things before writing more of a story. That's what I learned for NaNo last year and it was good for me. I think your second point 'Don't stop writing today unless you know how you are going to start writing tomorrow' would be a very good rule for me to adopt as well. I can drop things too easily if I am distracted! A great post and I'm looking forward to reading what others have to say. :-)
That's an interesting one, Frances - I've never heard it before, but I can see how in many cases it must be absolutely true. Thanks for commenting.
Good advice, Susanna, although, like you, I can't bear to stop when things are going well - who needs to eat, anyway? The best advice I've had was to write the first draft of the story, then throw the first 50 pages away because they're probably back story. Ouch. But it works.