Friday Fun – Least Favorite Writing Rule

Friday Fun is a group post from the writers of the NHWN blog. Each week, we’ll pose and answer a different, get-to-know-us question. We hope you’ll join in by providing your answer in the comments.

QUESTION: There are so many rules about writing, some more useful than others, some more universal than others. What’s your least favorite writing rule – the one that you think should be broken?

JME5670V2smCROPJamie Wallace: As a lover of all kinds of speculative fiction, I am not a fan of the oft-quoted writing rule to “write what you know.” I love reading stories that create previously unknown worlds filled with unique characters, landscapes, cultures, and possibilities. And, as a writer, I love the creative challenges of coming up with entire new worlds or realities.

I recently read a post (I wish I could remember where, but the details have slipped away from me) in which the author pointed out that even when we are writing about fantastical characters, settings, and plots, we are still – in a way – writing what we know by incorporating universal themes and emotions. So, basically, even when we’re writing about a story that takes place in a galaxy far, far away or a land from long ago filled with dragons and faeries, we are still writing about the experiences we know – the longings, heartbreaks, challenges, triumphs, joys, fears, and everything else that’s part of being human. Bringing in those elements that we “know” is what makes the really great speculative fiction seem as real and alive and true as our own lives.

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon:  “You have to know the rules before you can break the rules;” that’s the one that’s stopped me in my tracks many times over the years. I didn’t major in English in college, I don’t write for  a living, so I must not know the rules of writing well enough yet. I need to read about writing more before I can write, I need to take a class, or listen to a podcast, or something else that’s not actually writing. In the last few years I’ve ignored this rule more and I’ve gotten more writing done. I don’t need to study writing–I need to write! So I do. Later, as needed, I can look things up, show my work to my critique group, and/or hire an editor. For now, getting it down is what’s most important to me.

Deborah headshotI live by what W. Somerset Maugham observed: There are only three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.  I’ve found that these three rules are different for each novel.



Lisa_2015Lisa J. Jackson: I like Deborah’s response. I’ve seen that saying in memes on Facebook quite often. Two writing rules jump to mind when I read this question – the first is to avoid starting a sentence with a conjunction. But I find it to be the rule I break the most. The other is to avoid ending a sentence with a preposition. Sometimes it’s fun to break the rules we speak of.

33 thoughts on “Friday Fun – Least Favorite Writing Rule

  1. I’ve heard the rule Diane has put forward so many times – it irritates me too. How are you supposed to improve with no practice? It’s such a discouraging thing to say. Yes, we should always be learning, but learn by doing, not by having some self-appointed expert tell you how writing should be done.

    • yes very true self -driven learning consciouness and freedom to write or muse without limiting rules of expression. I and improvement can follow as Deborah Lee reflects on her What She Tells or folds Down – not Tear off because each diction flows with a purpose or sensibility that deserves stabilizing for their own future times,Nother reason for respecting a writers output and style is preferred access and a hope- for delight it might give to an intending hilarious audience and fulfillment altogether may not be compromised with editoriality that may not last as much as the passion that ooze them out from individual writers Brocas & Ernicle s areas of their brains and invisible mind cells.

      • Apologia for some errata in replying Diane above
        furthermore on Tips for organizing writers creation without killing First Thoughts– I used to think I m the only eccentric in writing and doggedly saving almost all the drafts and label their birthing distinctly usually in few minutes as is the case on my impromptu post online.
        *Atimes I save in different word formats for speed as grid power here is really very unstable and if you re not using a double cell or 6hr laptop you will be anguished for loosing a lot of precious musings,missives or posts needed to meet or buttress others views or group,The like of Deborah Lee might be good in tendering or mentoring a writers script rather than full blown editing or reckless re-write of a piece worth regaining the originality of thought of that writer or poet ( famed or not) insofar s(he) fantasizing a craft and humble enough to remain teachable about rules not ruins.
        IF we ar not to be complacent ,frankly speaking if we are to be widely functional or relevant or ghosting — writers need to identify areas of further literary or digital literacy and budget buddy or formal tutorship online or offline for individual enrichment and talent honing-or what’s your take
        No one can be once and for all trained in this century of a legion of tastes styles ,standards and varied expectations from a global or specific audience or clientele with good wallet,

  2. I am in Lisa’s camp — except that while I willingly and often break the “don’t start a sentence with a conjunction” rule, I almost always try to write around ending a sentence with a preposition. So while it’s fun to break the rules of which we speak, I have a much harder time breaking the preposition rule. (And then I get confused sometimes because some prepositions can also be adverbs and, thus, perfectly OK at the end of sentence…I think. Maybe?) I do, however, often treat a phrase as if it were a sentence, and in the context of the writing it works. (Though sometimes I go back later and add a subject or otherwise make it a simple, but real, sentence that follows the rules and find it more satisfactory.) I also occasionally make single words sentences for emphasis. Because. It. Is. Fun. Sort of. 🙂

    • hi Sara I like your interiorly free style though synergised with your primordial training in the literary particles.You re the exceptionally incorrect yet triumphant writer that will delight her audience anonymously across the ages and oceans and may maybe tourists visiting the 40-year burning oil crater in Darvaca,Why not keep it up and watch harmless monitors as ever?!

  3. I was told to avoid adverbs, model on Hemingway. Except that reading him does nothing for me. How on earth can you tap into the lusciousness of language without adverbs? So I was delighted to read a post of Jamie’s a couple of months back that said adverbs were fine. Which brings me to stating that there are no rules: it can be useful to know lots of them, but then use only what works for you 🙂

    • ‘Never use adverbs’ is the ‘rule’ of writing that tends to annoy me the most. Sure, lots of people say ‘Don’t use adverbs because Hemingway didn’t use them, but you know what? I just went and looked at the opening of “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” and counted the adverbs in the first six paragraphs (five of which are short bits of dialogue), and found more than a DOZEN adverbs.

      I think a lot of people just find it easier to say, ‘Never do this thing,’ than to explain how and when it’s appropriate to do whatever it is. Sure, using some sort of -ly adverb in every dialogue tag is not good writing, but that doesn’t mean all uses of adverbs, all the time, are bad writing, nor it is possible to avoid adverbs entirely in anything resembling grammatically correct writing. Keep in mind, words such as ‘not’ and ‘today’ are also adverbs (they both indicate WHEN an action is happening). Try writing a normal-length short story, much less a novel, without using ‘not’!

      • Thanks, I’ll get my hands on the novel. I’d heard about his “no adverbs” from a great many people, who also told me I could learn to pare down my own style by reading more of his writings 🙂 Who knows, I might even start to understand what the whole Hemingway cult is about!

    • yeah! beadM – you got it right -one ought to be a BOOTLICKER when it comes to style and writing just as it must be played down too for dress sense and sensibility,it’s also not harmful to rever ‘iconic authors’ even though you have their works in your garret. I love John Updike,Walt Witman but I can also boldly say I love Isaac Asimov the most because of his unique miscellany and versatility since age eleven.I live his style of titles – short & sharp,Imagine his Comet Fishing published in one of the old editions of Topic Mag

  4. Loved these responses, I was thinking there might be more rules to add in – but it’s great becasue really. There are none at all! 🙂

    • Sir Andrew Reynolrds
      I love your open confession… writers write but what of what they could have written without writers ‘ block? How many writers out there even if s(he) s not in bondage of an editor – who write all that they conceived,perceived or imagined or spontaneous enough to stabilize all the serious and the salacious?
      Ps. How many writers in developing world can write productively without stable power from the grid ? Or adequately with generator or religious house noise?
      or again with outdated devices?
      I m using one and it makes a Big difference!
      What if it hasn’t come in hand?
      maybe I would have been as inert as a toothless bulldog or remain unheralded – I mean unhealed of from unfurling or poetizing the many wonders and philanthropy on the one side of the screen and ,iniquities,inequities,xenophobia and unlove of many on the other side I

      • Addenda to Reynorlds & writers on this blog
        If I m to choose between two gadgets especially in a city or country where organized public transport is as fast or available to a fault I will choose a most functional smartphone or something equal to multimedia functionality useful for a typical writer than private car of the same dollar value,
        What’s your take on this preference?

  5. I think you have to be careful with the “show don’t tell” rule. Showing, of course, is much better than telling, in most situations. But sometimes it’s easier on the reader (being an avid reader myself), if you simply tell something rather than spend pages showing, if it’s not integral to the story. You have to know the difference when to tell and when to show; I think that’s a better rule.

  6. My least favorite rule is: You must write everyday!

    I break that rule all the time. There’s no way I can write everyday. Sometimes I just need a day or so to think about what I’m writing or to not think about it.

    • That’s a great rule to choose as your least favorite. Making something mandatory EVERY DAY is the definition of drudgery … takes all the joy and spontaneity out of it. (Also – btw – even just thinking about writing is writing, and I also think that just LIVING is writing if you are a writer – you never turn off your brain, which is always processing the world as a writer. You can’t help it. Even when you’re just daydreaming, that’s your writer’s mind at work!) 😉

  7. Not starting a sentence with and or but is a hard rule for. I try to only break it in my poetry because poets have poetic license, right? When I am righting prose I follow the rule. It is hard when you are writing something the like you are talking to someone. In those instances and and but can easily sneak into the beginning of a sentence because that is how I talk

  8. writing is so glass – like a craft that it will be ridiculous to assume that nothing else matters except your own dexterity,grammar,prodigy and style that matters to all!No. I think the audience in view might somehow lend credence to your stuff or might have inspired the whole process and level of sophistication as if it’s a narrative or poetry that grips one by the scruff of the neck,But will any readable writer worthy of the salt disregards basic rules of conjugation or ignore spelling mistakes in an age when almost all typing devices Can help to correct this vital aspect any write-up? Rules help to keep decorum but not necessarily the only required ingredient that matters in global writing – meaning a typical writer is more prompt or much more exposed to impromptu commentary than before and most of them can be used as raw material for bigger or newer planned works, In fact unless one ‘s writing for writing sake,that is ,possibly doesn’t care someone else will read it or will edit to live on it – such carelessness about polishing it to a preferred or queens standard may as well qualify it as a masturbation stuff. A few might tag it as a meditative monologue,One Writing rule that s also not binding to be called a rule depending on If you fe actually writing for a living or writing to live is the varying degree writers will respond to or break the writers block.A journalist ‘ s stress trying to meet a deadline will not be comparable to a novelist working at his/her own pace,Maybe that s why Robert Graves also categories writers of poems and poets – the latter being more professional in strictly following the rules of rhyme and expected versification. As evident in this modest contribution – I particularly love hyphens and I know a times my punctuation isn’t perfect enough .As other contributors have abstracted rule keeping shouldn’t be a big deal insofar friends or other professionals will still do their job.I surmise all writings deserve a minimum rule of concord be it fiction or non-fiction.

    Gbemi Tijani MST 9/7/16,550am Sent from my iPad

  9. For every literary rule that I’ve ever known, there is a famous author that broke them, sucessfully! From memory, Janet Frame: An angel at my table. Kerri Hulme: The bone people. Both are New Zealand authors, and I recommend the reads. 🙂

  10. The rules that really frustrate me are more to do with spelling and grammar. I’m a big fan of experimentation and ergodic lit, so when I hand in a piece of writing at uni and am reprimanded for deliberate switches in tense, or for breaking some sort of grammatical rule, it’s very frustrating. I think the only real rule in writing should be that it’s readable LOL

  11. Pingback: Writing through Pain and Confusion Plus Shareworthy Reading and Writing Links | Live to Write – Write to Live

  12. Pingback: Friday Fun – Least Favorite Writing Rule – Sweaters & Raindrops

  13. i enjoy writing like i speak–which sometimes may not be in complete sentences. i think i saw someone else’s comment–single word sentences. oh yeah. i tend to break a lot of rules because i don’t generally target post-graduates. I ck my Flesch Reading stats for ease of reading.

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