Thursday, December 15, 2011


By Isabo Kelly

We’ve all heard them. The Rules of Writing: Write what you know. Show don’t tell. Write every day. Outline your story before you start writing. Be persistent and persevere. Never give up. Always have a critique partner or group. Have a writing schedule. Avoid starting a story with dialogue. Study the market. Learn proper grammar. Read read read! Revise revise revise! Don’t use exclamation points! Avoid all clichés. Write with a unique voice. Never ever use adverbs and adjectives. Murder your darlings. Stop writing for the day in the middle of a sentence…

For an art and a craft, there are a lot of rules to follow.

Okay, some of this is really more “advice” than “rule”, but they’re often presented as The Only Way To Succeed As A Writer. And to be fair, some of them are pretty good. Like reading a lot. Really, if you’re a writer, you should read. Being persistent and persevering is an important piece of advice too. That whole revising thing can be helpful.

However, some of these “rules” I think are a bit more flexible. And there are some I just don’t follow.

What rules do I break?

Well, I don’t write every day for one. Such a big no-no according to some. But the truth is, I have to work writing in around my life. And there are just those days when there is no room or brain power left over for writing. Also, it’s good to take time off and do other things. Makes a writer hungry to get back to her story. Normal jobs allow for time off for good behavior. Writing should too.

I never outline. I did try this. Finishing a full novel is probably easier if you can outline. But I can’t. So I don’t. Simple as that. At least I tried.

“Write what you know” is just about impossible since I write science fiction but I’ve never been in space (yet) and fantasy but I’ve never wielded magic to do battle with evil elves (yet). I’ve always thought this should more properly be “write what you’re interested in” because you can do research to learn what you need to know to write a believable story. A lot of other really excellent writers agree with me on this one, so I give full permission to flout this rule brazenly.

Have a writing schedule. Wouldn’t that be nice? I’d love to have a regular writing schedule. At points in my career I have managed to have something like one. But sadly, no more. I write whenever I can squeeze it in—late night, early morning, on the subway, during toddler nap, on a scrap of paper in a waiting room. The general day to day chaos of my life means I’ve been breaking this rule for years.

The “avoid all clichés” rule…all I can say is good luck with that. If you can manage it, tell me how you do.

And finally, a piece of advice I believe in adamantly and think is an excellent rule if you’re going to succeed in this brutal business—never give up. Well, I break that one all the time too. I’m always giving up. I throw in the towel several times a year and think, “I’ll just be a reader. I don’t need this (insert expletive). There are plenty of things I can do instead.” Then I go right back to writing. I can’t help it. So I guess, in point of fact, through no effort of my own, I actually do ultimately follow this rule. But it’s pretty fun to say, “I quit!” every now and then.

So what rules do you break? What “absolutely must do” writing advice do you thumb your nose at? On purpose or otherwise? Bet they’re some pretty good ones, huh?

To read the “rules” of some contemporary authors, visit this Guardian (UK) article on the subject ( Some of the advice is very funny. And some of it is excellent—pay close attention. Some of it…well, don’t take it too seriously. After all, rules were made to be broken.

Isabo Kelly’s most recent fantasy romance, BRIGHTARROW BURNING, has a dark tone, is written in her typical informal style, and is undoubtedly written in her unique voice (which took a lot of writing to uncover). For more on Isabo and her books visit her at

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