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3 Common Writing Rules (& When To Break Them!)

Updated: Dec 15, 2023

KWE Publishing Newsletter - 03/02/23

We've all been given writing advice before, whether it came from our teachers, friends, or mentors. Often, this advice is really helpful, especially when we're first starting out!

However, getting bogged down with so-called "rules" can be overwhelming. You might find that your writing feels too stiff or formulaic if you get too focused on the rules. That's when it might be time to toss your style guide aside and write without worrying about the rules.

Okay, so don't actually destroy your style guide, but once you've nailed down the basics of writing, you have the chance to forego the rules and loosen up a bit!

Here are three rules of writing you might want to consider breaking:

1. Show, Don't Tell

Showing scenes rather than telling your reader what is happening is one of the most common pieces of writing advice people hear. There's a good reason for this, too—by showing rather than telling, you're bringing your reader into the world of your book.

That said, when you choose to "show" readers and when you choose to "tell" readers something makes a big difference. Showing too much can sometimes make everything feel important. And when everything feels important, nothing feels important.

Telling your readers about less important elements of your story can help ensure that what you show stands out. In some instances, telling a reader something can help to move the story along and can keep readers from feeling overwhelmed by details.

So while this is a good rule, take a second to ask yourself what's most important about your story and what information can be condensed. Show the important things; tell what doesn't need to be shown.

2. Don't Edit While You Write

I'm not going to lie, I generally am a fan of this piece of advice. Typically, I think it's best not to edit too much when you're writing your first draft. Your goal at the start is to just write and get rid of the fear that staring at a blank page can bring.

But sometimes, editing when you write isn't a bad thing.

I'm not talking about nitpicky, technical issues here. I'm talking about making structural changes and exploring different scenarios. If you're writing and realize that you're bored, consider how your page would read without a paragraph you've written. Just make sure when you're editing at this stage that you're not permanently removing anything (use Google Doc's "suggestion" mode or Word Doc's "track changes" to ensure you can approve or reject these changes at a later time).

3. Write What You Know

Writing what you know, just like the above pieces of advice, isn't a bad philosophy on its own. After all, when you write what you know, you're coming from a place of confidence, and that can be helpful, especially if you're writing about a complex subject.

However, writing what you know can sometimes limit you if you only write about things you've personally experienced.

Basing your writing in reality and then branching out can be a freeing experience. If you're writing a memoir about parenting, for example, you could strengthen your book by interviewing a child development expert and sharing things outside of your own realm of expertise. Writing a children's book? Don't feel like you have to write about a specific instance from your childhood; you can use important themes and use your creativity to create something totally unique.

And if you want to write about something you have no experience with whatsoever, there's no one stopping you! Write your drafts freely when starting out, then go from there.

So, while these writing rules are ultimately often helpful, they aren't written in stone. Once you've honed your craft, breaking the rules is sometimes part of the fun!

What writing tips have you commonly heard, and what rules have you broken in your own writing? Share your thoughts with us; we love to hear from you!

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