Truth: Writing Rules Make Me Want to Rip My Hair Out

I have always been a rule follower.

It wasn’t because I believed in these rules I was following or obeyed them unquestioningly, but likely because whenever I would get in trouble for said rules, it usually involved unwanted attention.

And I do NOT like attention.

One of my earliest memories as a girl is of me breaking the rules in kindergarten and deciding to crawl on the ground instead of walk. I have no idea what made me do this — I’m not the type of “get down in the dirt” type of girl at all.

But for some reason, on that fateful day in kindergarten, I decided to break this rule about “walking” (Was it ever a real rule though? Did they ever tell us “no crawling”? We were in kindergarten after all — only a few years away from our crawling days.) and crawl towards the classroom.

As soon as my teacher witnessed this new approach to entering the classroom, I was scolded and my clip — a strange monitor of behavior much like a stoplight system — was moved from the “green” zone to the “yellow” zone.

Needless to say, it was a long time until I broke any “rules” again.

It is this suppression of rebellion within me that I suspect is the reason that whenever someone tells me a writing “rule,” my immediate reaction is to break that rule and prove whoever told me it that they’re wrong.

In fact, I have written entire stories dedicated to proving someone wrong about a writing rule.

(They have ranged from quite good to completely forgettable, which in the writing world is much worse than “bad.”)

A few times I have tried to return to the rules and respect them. Being a writer who blogs about writing often makes it difficult for me to give advice on writing simply because every time I give advice, my reaction is to play the Devil’s advocate to my own advice.

This also means that when people search for tangible writing wisdom, I am often not the one to give it.

When people ask me for writing advice, I suddenly start talking like a free-loving hippie, telling people to “go with their gut” and “follow their story’s path.”

And for a while I was hard on myself about this and wondered if maybe I followed more writing rules, I might be a better writer (and writer who blogs about writing.)

But then I realized that I’m right. Kind of.

I have wanted to be a storyteller my entire life. My love of stories has driven me to read more books, watch more movies, see more plays, and play more video games.

And the more I’ve surrounded myself with these things I love, the more I’ve come to realize that rules and structures people teach about writing strip away everything I love about the craft.

I don’t want stories that can be worked through a formula. I don’t want simple tricks to fix my plot. I don’t want that trait every protagonist “has to have.”

I don’t want my art and my passion to be turned into something that can be worked through a machine. I want to preserve the magic of writing, the mystery of what makes some characters so wonderful and some plots so deep, without ascribing some “secret trick” to it all.

I want to revel in the mystery of Fyodor Dostevsky and Gabriel García Márquez and Sylvia Plath and all those who followed suit. I want to love their stories without stripping away that mystique that drew me to them.

Because to me, that’s what makes writing so wonderful. There’s a unique, individual human behind each story and to try and create rules to how those unique individuals write is completely ludicrous to me — and also utterly impossible.

So while there may be tips that are mostly true and plot points that usually occur, I’m going to keep resisting these rules and celebrating the fact that no rule can tell me how I write.

And I imagine that will mostly involve me raising my middle finger to every single book on “how to plot your novel” out there.