6 Writing Rules That Writers Can Live By

Writing rules

Every writer knows the hardships of our field. It is fiery, competitive, and indiscriminately cruel to every writer. Yet we love to be here.

Don’t get me wrong, to be a writer is to be free in a way that is hard to describe. Perhaps that’s why we spend all our life honing our words for the perfect perspective. The journey is long, rewarding, and tedious. Yet worth it in the end. We get there by following a set of personal standards; writing rules.

Along the way, we also learn what works for us and we create our own literary bible. The writing commandments that will follow us throughout our career. This post focuses on the six writing rules that I consider my commandments. They are simple, they are somewhat clean, and they are easy to recall amid a literacy crisis. What better way to remember them then to immortalize them on the web? Let us dive in!

1. Actively Make The Time To Write

When I read articles that demand writers to write a set amount of words daily, I cry a little inside. Yes, actively writing is important, but unless your job is within your field it is likely that you may have to wait before you can write about what you actually want to write about. Life is life and we all have responsibilities. If you are made to feel that writing becomes one of those responsibilities than you may not want to write as much.

Instead of forcing yourself to write a set amount every day, actively schedule a time to write, encourage yourself to stick to that schedule, and write whenever you feel the need. I have notebooks full of random thoughts. Whenever I don’t have my small journal, I write on scraps, save them, and then attach them to my journal when I get home. Writing is an active part of my life, but it doesn’t mean I write long flowing stories and articles every day.

Some days I am lucky to write down definitions or even finish a thought before my job takes up my attention. Just remember, to actively make the time. Here is a great article that explains the importance of writing with a plan.

Writing rules
Courtesy of AOOFotography

2. Read, Read, And Read

Writing rules
A stoop is a great reading spot. Courtesy of AOOFotography

All writers know this rule well. Really, without this rule, we would not be able to call ourselves writers. All it takes is one well-written story to inspire our pen. Each writer has a certain genre that calls to them. For me, it will always be science fiction (sci-fi for short) because it allows our minds to escape from reality.

The greatest stories hold more than fantasy, they draw from harsh realities and transform them in a way that allows readers to connect on a deep, personal level. One of my favorite contemporary sci-fi series is Legacy of Orïsha by Tomi Adeyemi.

However, writers should never stick to one genre. Reading is our way of creating adventures when the funds and time don’t allow it. Read, read, and read some more. Hop from genre to genre and never become comfortable reading in one genre. Currently, I am back to reading a sci-fi novel and I have a collection of essays (from the genre of social science) by Rebecca Solnit on deck.

3. Actively Correct What Is Wrong

The greatest, yet hardest, skill to keep consistent is proofreading and editing. Actively correcting mistakes is a task that I try to do every day in every piece that I read. Most of my books are marked up with grammatical corrections and structure questions. Once I get home, I double-check my corrections with my grammar books.

Three tools to always have at your proofreading/editing disposal: a pencil, a pen (preferably red), and sticky notes. No matter what book is open, always define unknown words, correct mistakes, and triple – no quadruple- check your work. Personally, I like to color-code my corrections. Red pen for in book corrections, yellow sticky notes for definitions, and blue sticky notes for queries.

The internet has many resources when it comes to practicing proofreading and editing. Challenge yourself and never feel that the basics are above your intelligence level.

Here is a website that can be very beneficial to any writer of any level:

4. Peer Review Is Key

This may be the hardest writing rules to live by. Our work is always personal because it is an extension of ourselves. As writers, we use the pen and paper as a conduit for our innermost deep thoughts and share with the world. As a result, we make ourselves vulnerable in a way that many find crippling. Through this vulnerability, we create connections with people we may never meet, yet we know everything about each other.

However, before we create the connections, we have to expose our work to the world of peer review. As writers, we need an objective and honest critique of our work. Sensitivity is to be expected, but the more critique received, the easier it becomes to work with sensitivity. No one likes to be told that their writing needs work, but how else can one improve?

5. Research And Attend

Writing rules
BookCon event floor. Courtesy of AOOFotography

If there are two amazing tools at the disposal of writers today, it is online search engines and events. Writing rules from all walks of life mandate the upkeep of a good education. Rule number 2 is our figurative way of educating ourselves. We use books to remain hermit-like introverts that deem writing and reading our only life activities. However, we have to venture out into the real world.

Research and attending writing-related events will play a large role in how your work is viewed by its potential audience. How can you write to your audience without getting to know them? The best way to find resources is to research your area. Yes, there are a million and one online workshops to attend, but I implore my fellow writers to attend physical workshops.

Take advantage of the independent bookstore lines within your community. To keep sales and attention, these bookstores tend to host many different events and are especially open to hosting clubs and workshops hosted by fellow writers.

Writing rules
A free workshop in Bryant Park, NYC. Sponsored by Gotham Writers. Courtesy of AOOFotography

Meet fellow writers, pick their brains, and create symbiotic connections. I am a Brooklyn-based writer, so everywhere I look there is an opportunity to attend many events. However, three companies keep my attention year-round: BookCon, Gotham Writers Workshop, and Barnes and Noble. Each company holds free and affordable workshops and events year-round.

Below are links to further explain the three companies and provide event information:

6. Keep A Collection Of Literary Bibles

We like to think we know the world, however, we will always be amateurs when it comes to knowledge. Is this a bad trait? Absolutely not! No one in this world benefits from ‘knowing it all’. That’s why all writers should always keep a collection of literary books at all times.

The books can vary in use, but should always include the following areas: grammar rules of different regions, syntax, composition and structure, and a handy set of literary classics. We all know a good range of classics because we were forced to read them in grade school; as a result of forced reading, we need to make the effort to reread the books that we spark noted in grade school.

Writing rules
Courtesy of Freestocks.org

I can tell you from experience that many of the literary classics hold more substance in adult life. My top three classics are The Great Gatsby by F Scott. Fitzgerald, To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee, and The Catcher and The Rye by J.D. Salinger. Each book holds a special place in my heart because I can better relate to the story and characters as I try to figure out my life after college. Most classics are written within a realistic perspective, and therefore, better understood by people that are ready to tackle the real world.

Here are some great literary resources when it comes to grammar:

  • The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr.
  • The Purdue OWL an online resource
  • The AP Style Guide by Associated Press (this is for those that study journalism, a major necessity!)

Of course, tailor your collection to fit your needs. Perhaps your writing sides more toward contemporary novels rather than the classics, so collect what will benefit you the most. Always remember to keep a balance between your literary wants and needs. Classics may not be the easiest to enjoy, however, they always have a lesson to teach.

What Next?

Writing rules are meant to keep us on our toes literally and figuratively. As I previously stated, no one knows it all and we are always gaining knowledge. So don’t become discouraged if some of these rules aren’t in your ballpark. Make it work in a way that fits your archetype. As writers, we all have our process.

If you feel up to it, share your writing rules below in the comments.