I’ve been writing professionally and as a journalist for 15 years.
My accolades include three published books, hundreds of published news and human interest stories, a successful blog, two award-winning investigative television series and a comedic stage play that made its debut in 2014.
I have learned how to write from the best and the worst.
I have been told to write at least 1,500 words a day.
Or 3,000 a day.
Or whatever the hell I want every other day.
I’ve been advised not to use semicolons; that they are insignificant.
It has been suggested that I swear by the Associated Press Stylebook.
The next day I’m told to burn that book and worship The Cambridge Handbook for Editors, Authors and Publishers.
Never use slang.
Use slang whenever I want.
And dammit, Aaron Sorkin says I shouldn’t start a sentence with dammit or and. Ever. (He wrote “Newsroom,” which you should watch.)
Stephen King writes 3,000 words or more every day, even on holidays.
J.K. Rowling writes up to 11 hours most days.
Margaret Atwood writes between 1,000 and 2,000 a day.
Enter contests. Don’t enter contests.
Go to writer’s retreats and workshops. Don’t go.
Take an online course. Don’t take an online course.
I could go on and on with examples that so many offer on the rules of writing. But I won’t because despite all of the rules and suggestions, the best thing you can do for yourself is to DO WHAT WORKS FOR YOU.
Does this mean you should disregard what seasoned writers and screenwriters say? No, not at all. Listen. Implement. But trust your gut, too.
I wrote a screenplay last year that I pitched to a production company in February. They requested it to read, getting back to me 4 weeks later to tell me the screenplay was overwritten and a slog to get through.
At the same time, a producer that thought my script was a hoot asked my permission to pass it on to Cobie Smulders’ agent.
In both instances, my writing had a different impact on two different parties based on their rules of writing.
THAT WILL ALWAYS HAPPEN.
Some will love you, some won’t. We know that. So why do we continue to try and conform to the rules of others, even when our gut screams at us to follow our own?
Look, I love to write. I do it almost every day. There are some days I don’t really want to, but because I make a living with my pen, I kind of have to. For the longest time, I thought the Writing Gods would come down from the Script Heavens and destroy me if I skipped a day.
“You’re never going to be successful if you don’t write every day,” they would say. “Because you skipped Sunday and Monday (and used a semicolon yesterday), we’re going to punish you by seeing to it that that production company doesn’t choose you. Tsk, tsk.”
I worked with a business coach once that said, “You are responsible for the box you put yourself in. If you live by the rules and beliefs of others, you will never experience true freedom. Break the rules. As long as no one gets hurt, break the rules all day long.”
So this post is your permission slip to do just that.
You may be torn on whether or not you should move a scene to the top of your script because someone very seasoned suggested it. You’re allowed to be torn.
You may be torn on whether or not you should change the title of your book because a very seasoned publisher suggested it. Again, you’re allowed to be torn.
What you’re NOT allowed to do is doubt yourself. (I know, I know, we all struggle with this…)
Believe it or not, there is an Inner Knowing within you that really needs to be trusted. That, coupled with the knowledge and experience that seasoned writers offer, is what makes a really good writer an amazing writer.
Having said all of this, make your own rules. Take pieces of what he said and she said and what you feel, and make your own. Want to use a semicolon? Use it. Want to swear and cuss and use big words? Use ‘em. Want to keep that scene intact? Keep it.
In the end, don’t take anyone’s writing advice too seriously (Quote: Lev Grossman). Just because you’re “not there” yet doesn’t mean you don’t know well enough to get there. It just means, well, that you’re not there yet. Keep learning, keep growing, keep believing, and you will be.
All my best to you.
Joleene moody is a freelance writer, blogger and speaker who lives in Oswego County with her husband and daughter. Learn more at www.takeyourvoiceback.com. Her column appears monthly in NNY Business. Visit nnybizmag.com to read past columns online.