Writing Rules – Do Authors Have to Adhere to Them?

rules-1752405_640Reference to ‘Writing Rules’ regularly appears in author and writer related discussions, posts and articles. Nevertheless, the so called ‘rules’ are not usually listed, leaving readers with no option but to surmise what they are.

It is in fact not easy to find such a list, however, a search of the internet, and through multiple websites and blogs, has enabled the following summary to be put together. Of course there may be other ‘rules’ readers of this article may consider merit inclusion but for the purpose of this discussion the following provide an effective basis. The so called rules (10), together with some brief observations:

Rule 1: Write what known

Naturally, the ethos behind this makes sense however, it can be limiting. Everyone starts life with a primarily blank canvas. Of course, there will be some character and personality traits but overall all subsequent knowledge is gained through example, education, training and research. There is therefore no reason an author cannot research a subject they previously had no knowledge of.

Rule 2: Hook readers on page one

Again, this is understandable. However, a few observes have noted, some author enthusiasm for this precept has lead to confusing, muddled, unclear opening chapters. Going strait into action without some degree of background may bewilder the reader or present them with distracting questions. Of course, there are occasions when this is not the case. Where it is appropriate to include some background description the author needs to ensure it is not too wordy though, at the same time, they should make certain there is sufficient for the reader to make sense of the action.

Rule 3: Show, don’t tell

This particular ‘rule’ is consistently quoted as a must. Everyone understands the principle is, without question, a good premise nonetheless, not everything can be seen, felt, smelled, tasted, etc. To try and ‘show’ such things would simply end with confusing and undoubtedly longwinded explanations that detract from, rather than enhance, the reader experience.

Rule 4: Write ‘xxxxxx’ (poor quality) first drafts

Why? Inevitably first drafts will, at least in most cases, be rough, scrambled, and messy. But that is the nature of them. And, yes, the tale, plot, presentation (form and insertion point) will evolve, but it would be wrong for the author to aim for a ‘xxxxxx’ first draft. It may end up being such but in the end it is of little consequence. The first draft is there to help the author collate their ideas and to form a basis for editing.

Rule 5: Write everyday

Many support this practice as a way of keeping the flow going and to prevent, or overcome when it occurs, so called writer’s block. It is a useful practice authors are recommended to aim for. However, priorities must come into play here. Life with all its elements of family, employment and other responsibilities has to be taken into account. Sometimes it is not possible to find writing time within each and every day. This is okay. There is no need to feel guilty, provided these are not being used as an excuse (as opposed to a valid reason) for not writing each day. There are also those authors who, suffering lack of inspiration in a particular day, find forcing themselves to write is counterproductive though for most doing exactly that is what is needed.

Rule 6: Kill the darlings

No, not the characters, though may be suitable in some circumstances. ‘Darlings’ refers to those sections the author has worked hard over and consequently ‘loves’ but which do not appear to add to, or progress, the story. Many authors acknowledge how difficult this can be. Of course, it may not always be necessary to remove these sections, if, by enhancing or changing words or phrases, they can be made to support the tale. This requires self-discipline; it is only natural to want to retain those elements into which sweat, tears and hard work have been invested. However, overall and throughout, the author should be keeping the reader in mind.

Rule 7: Develop a thick skin

Everyone is unique and different with consequent varied likes and dislikes. It is never possible to please all of the people all of the time. Criticism, of one kind or another, is therefore inevitable. Some chose to develop a ‘thick skin’ as a means of protecting themselves against such criticism. However, this is a mistake. Naturally, no one likes to hear or see their ‘baby’ damned but they miss out if they do not listen to what is being said: this is simply another avenue of learning. If several readers are saying the same thing then it is probably a true reflection. The author should take note and re-exam the text. Of course, where the criticism is malicious the author has every right to ignore it.

Rule 8: Silence inner critic

Anyone who seeks to produce anything worthwhile posses a self-critical element. In addition, every writer has a built-in editor. Without it they would not have the ability to chose relative word or phrase alternatives. Beside anything else, most will acknowledge it is hard, and probably not entirely possible, to subdue their ‘inner critic’ and may well not wish to. If it can be done then there is no argument, it helps, especially in the initial stages.

Rule 9: Read in same genre as write

Without question, authors should be reading books in the same genre as their own but not to also read in others deprives them of a learning opportunity. As unique individuals, each author has their own style and presentation method and genres tend to have their own format from which others may learn. From reading these authors may find new insight into how to present their own tales. There is also the benefit of resting their own minds and of general relaxation while enjoying entertaining tales. Everyone needs a break from the everyday now and then.

Rule 10: If want to get rich, do something else

Admittedly, in the modern independent (indie) author publishing industry statistics support the implication. However, there is no reason, with a willingness to learn and work hard, for an indie author not to find success. A handful have found international fame with some of their books also being made into blockbuster films. Yes, it is true most will not meet with great success but then it is assumed they are writing because it is in them to do so. They should not deprive society by giving up.


Grammar rules have not been forgotten but as this is intended to only be a basic, simplistic look at the subject of ‘writing rules’ they have no place here.

Appreciated the observations and explanations included under each rule above are minimal though it is hoped they help readers comprehend the nature of each rule and whether they really have to be adhered to.

An important point to note: trying to always follow other people’s advice may sometimes lead to a confusing, muddled manuscript that readers will find difficult and may well cause them to cease reading. Not something an author wishes for. Advice should be considered and if it is a good fit adopted but not slavishly.

Perceived and frequently referred to ‘rules’ should always be considered however, in the end it is for the author to determine what is best for their book and reader (not their pride).

7 thoughts on “Writing Rules – Do Authors Have to Adhere to Them?

  1. Thank you for your thoughts on this. I think advice for writers should be taken in the same vein as advice for new mothers. when my son was born I was told by a child care nurse “Take in everything your are told. Keep what you want and throw the rest away.” It is also timely advice for my writers group and I will share it on their Facebook page.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Another excellent post, Tanya – I love this, particularly how you have looked at both sides to the ‘rules’ . When you are starting out as a writer and reading these rules it can feel so binding. Bear them in mind, yes, but then make your own gut decisions and that brings more confidence :>)

    Liked by 1 person

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