The Rules of Writing and Why You Should Ignore Them

What about all of those bring-down-the-hammer writers who make up silly rules about how often a writer must write? You are a writer if you believe you are a writer.

It doesn’t matter a whit whether you write for ten hours every day, or only a few hours a month. It doesn’t make you any less legitimate. That’s just quantity, not quality.

Yes, it’s very important to make time to write-but only as much time as you WANT to write. Don’t feel guilty if you have lots of other obligations and don’t actually want to write more; if you’re satisfied with your own output, that’s all that matters. If, on the other hand, you desperately do want to write more, then set your own rule!

Decide what it is that you want to accomplish, and make it happen. Do you want to write a certain number of pages a day? Or a certain number of hours? Or do you want to complete a project by X date?

Do you want to improve your character development skills? Sharpen your dialogue? Set your own “rules” to accomplish this goal.

I do not believe that “real” writers have to write every day. I hope that writers will read at least as often as they write – and if I had the liberty to do so, I would spend the next two weeks just reading and re-inspiring myself… picking up on other writers’ strengths and learning from their weaknesses.

There are dozens of other “rules” I’ve heard along the way about the business end of writing (“Real writers don’t write for free,” “You must never sign all-rights contracts,” etc.). No one can make these decisions for you and only you know where your ethics and career goals lie.

Many experienced writers will complain when new writers work for free or accept unfavorable contract terms; their thinking is that this devalues the entire industry and lets publishers believe they can get writers without paying a fair wage. While there is logic in this thinking, it’s too black-and-white, and doesn’t take into account how a writer with no credits can break into the industry. Oftentimes, beginning writers happily accept assignments from publications that can’t afford to pay – and in return, the writer gets a clip and the first taste of exposure.

So, if you’re just starting out and are wondering whether or not to offer your work to non-paying markets, do listen to both sides of the argument from writers who are further along in their careers. Do think hard about all of the pros and cons. And then make your own decision based on what you believe is right, not based on anyone else’s rule.

When you get caught up in worrying about what “real” writers do, and how you measure up, and whether or not you’re violating any codes that might make people in the “in-club” sneer at you, your writing will suffer. It will become forced, rather than enjoyable. And that’s not fair to you!

Each writer paves his or her own road to success and the methods behind our madness are wildly varied. Find out what works for you and don’t apologize for it.

Write your own “rule book,” and if it stops working, violate those rules and write new ones. Keep evolving and learning as a writer and concern yourself only with filling your own shoes.

Whether you accomplish that by writing ten pages a day first thing in the morning in the basement, or by jotting down poems in code while hanging upside-down from your favorite tree branch every third Tuesday, remember that your uniqueness is the most cherished gift in your writer’s toolbox.

Jenna Glatzer is a full-time writer and editor with hundreds of national and online credits, recently including Woman’s World, Writer’s Digest and Salon.com. She is the former Editor-in-Chief of AbsoluteWrite and the author of The More Than Any Human Being Needs To Know About Freelance Writing Workbook.