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No rules, just write!

Ignore the rules?

When I started writing, three years—oh my God, three years—ago, I didn’t know anything. I had a story I wanted to tell, and I enjoyed sitting at the computer every day banging it out.

Ignorance is bliss.

I’ve learned a lot since then. Some of it’s been really useful stuff. POV, setting, hooks, active language, effective dialogue, pacing, conflict. Critique partners, agents, editors, and contest judges have provided excellent feedback on what does and doesn’t work.

They have also—for better or worse—passed along the “rules” of romance writing. Some good, others not so much, though all generally well-meaning. And every one of these is broken—and done well—in many of the bestselling books out there.

  • The hero and heroine should meet in the first few pages.
  • Once the H/H are together, they need to stay together as much as possible for the rest of the book.
  • Keep the timespan of the story short for better pacing.
  • No prologues.
  • No head hopping in the same scene.
  • Write mainly from the heroine’s point of view.
  • Don’t let the H/H have sex too soon.

I’ve had editors and agents say things like, “The Caribbean? Oh, well, readers prefer books that are set in the U.S.” Or, “Military suspense is good as long as it’s not too involved in military day-to-day stuff.”

I need that thing Dumbledore has—a pensieve—where he can pull memories out of his head so he doesn’t have to deal with them. Something insidious happens as you learn “the rules”.

Like the child whose purple trees and orange grass slowly begin to conform as she progresses through school until she can’t conjure fantastical art anymore, a writer is in danger of losing the creative spark if she lets all those notions of what will and won’t work bog her down before she’s even started.

There’s no doubt that craft is imperative. My early manuscripts pretty much suck from lack of good craft, but the story was exactly what I wanted it to be by the time I was done.

I don’t want to self-edit before I even start typing! I already have enough unconscious filters at play already.

So, I’m not entirely sure how to get back to writing the book for myself first and everyone else second. For now, I’m trying to ask myself, “If I wrote this the way I really wanted to—as if no one else would read it—what would happen?”

Any suggestions for how to toss the “rules” and just write?

Photo credit: DO NOT ENTER SIGN © Aaron Kohr |