Writing a book is both exhilarating and terrifying. There will be times of blissful creative abundance and periods of deep wordless frustration. Surrounding yourself with a support network of family, friends, and other writers is vital to weathering the emotional storm of novel crafting. But what happens when our cheerleaders become hecklers? Kind words of wisdom or writer rules can quickly turn to criticism in our ears if we have already tried and couldn’t follow a person’s advice.
Don’t get frustrated. There’s no reason to feel guilty or depressed about not following everyone’s suggestions. You’re not them, and failing to satisfy the terms of their guidance does not mean automatic failure in your goal. Here are five rules writers constantly hear, and how ignoring every single one of them can still turn out a fantastic novel.
1) Don’t Quit Your Day Job
When it comes to quitting your day job, you must weigh the pros and cons. Will being under the gun to produce something, now that you can’t use work as an excuse, make your fingers fly a little faster over the keyboard? Maybe. Will bills piling up on the counter inspire that important love scene in your novel? Maybe not. Only you can know.
There’s no shame in quitting your day job and no shame in staying, it’s about what’s best for you, your family, and your novel. If now is the time to drop corporate work and branch out for the writing career of your dreams, go for it. Don’t let anyone else dictate when is the right time to pursue your goals.
2) Read, Read, Read
A writer who doesn’t read is like a chef who doesn’t eat. Of course it’s important to know what else is out there, but a chef who tries to eat at every restaurant would never stop eating, and a writer who tried to read every book would never have time to write! This is a subject where quality over quantity matters. Pick a few of your favorite authors, the ones you want to emulate and the ones you simply enjoy, and concentrate on reading their books.
You don’t need to be an expert literary critic to figure out what you like about a book. Maybe it’s the careful grammatical structure of a paragraph that catches your eye or maybe the descriptions of the scenery transport you to another world. Whatever it is, use it as inspiration.
If your eyes can’t focus on the page because that novel inspired too many good ideas, by all means, put down that book and scramble for a pen. After all, you’re trying to be an author, right? I promise, no matter how many books you read, you’ll never stop hearing the words “I can’t believe you haven’t read that.”
3) Write What You Know
The sun rises in the East; don’t touch a hot stove; water is wet. Oh sorry, I was busy trying to take that advice. Writing from our experiences can be powerful and dynamic, but you can’t let it limit you. Knowledge comes from learning, so if we only use what we already know, we would never learn new things. Sounds like the opposite of a good idea to me.
Draw from the knowledge that surrounds you. Instead of getting Aunt Becky’s advice on your writing career, something she is not an expert at, ask her about the plumbing business she’s run for the past 20 years. Then, when your superhero MC comes up against a leaky faucet, they can fix it with ease.
Facebook groups, online forums, and local writer meet ups are all great places to find collective knowledge on any subject. Be curious; talk to people; or experience it for yourself! Your emotions at learning something new could reflect your character’s emotions at trying something else for the first time. Knowledge is helpful, but imagination is much more important. Don’t let lack of one stifle creativity of the other.
4) Write Every Day
Stephen King claims he never goes to bed without having written a minimum of 2000 words. Good for him, but it doesn’t necessarily work that way for the rest of us. Making time to write is important whether it’s an all day occurrence or a hurried ten minutes during lunch, but there’s no reason it has to be a continuous block of structured time. Use phone apps to keep text and voice memos for impromptu inspirations or get a waterproof journal for the shower, a place where many of us do our best thinking.
Fresh out of ideas today? Take a break. Skipping a day of writing to recharge your creativity with reading, physical activity, or relaxation might inspire double or triple your average word count the next day. In the end, it’s about words appearing on paper, not when or how often they got there. The fact that you sit down and write at all means you are closer to getting published than billions (yes, billions) of other people. That is an accomplishment to be celebrated, not lamented.
5) You’ll Never Get Published, Unless . . .
Every person reading this has heard this phrase followed up with any number of prerequisites—unless it’s longer than 70,000 words, unless you have a big social platform, unless you go to every writer’s conference. I think you get the idea. These may be some of the ways to get published, but they certainly aren’t the only ways. Fahrenheit 451 and The Great Gatsby don’t even hit 50,000 words. Having followers and meeting other writers is great, but if you only ever socialize and spend no time writing your novel, it’s definitely not going to get published because it doesn’t exist.
I would like to toss every other possibility out the door and propose a single ending to this piece of advice. You’ll never get published, unless you write something down. That’s it; that’s all it takes to start you on the path to literary stardom. From plot structure to opening sentences to dialogue pacing, there’s no doubt that every author and reader you meet will have a different opinion. Your book is a reflection of you and your own style. Don’t let these supposed ‘rules’ restrict the masterpiece you set out to create.
Don’t get me wrong, every one of the rules on this list is a solid piece of advice… just maybe not for you. That’s okay! Happy are those who can do their work ‘by the book’, but you should never be ashamed or feel less successful because you find a way for yourself that doesn’t work for others or goes directly against their advice. YOU are the novelist and you get to write your book any way you choose.
Jeanette is a scuba diving instructor living in landlocked Dallas, TX. Oh… she also does freelance blogging and editing, makes a lot of dad jokes, creates web content, supports the oxford comma, and writes the occasional piece of fiction. (This isn’t one of them; this is all true.)
She is the editor of a career exploration guide available on Amazon (http://bit.ly/exploreyourniche) and has a lot of files on her laptop that may one day be published. Until that happens, you can visit her #WordyWednesday (http://bit.ly/wordywednesday) blog for a mid-week word fact or look at pictures of her cats on Instagram (http://bit.ly/JtWInstagram) and Facebook (http://bit.ly/JtWFacebook).