Them’s the Rulz, Kiddo

In the Season 5 Bones episode – “The X in the File” (Why yes, I do know the episode title and the season, doesn’t everyone know these things?), FBI Special Agent Seeley Booth (he’s just “Booth” to me, of course, because we’re tight like that) quips with someone on the idea that there is such a thing as an “important blogger”. “Isn’t that an oxymoron?” he asks.

Yes, Booth, it is.

I could get all controversial about the whole thing, but then I’d be focusing on blogging in general and that’s not at all what I want. My only idea behind posting that little tidbit is that, as a writer that took it into my head that I might actually try to get published, I became a huge consumer of blog content that surrounds the writing and publishing field and you know what? Lots of people think they have the definitive answer, and while there are a lot of popular bloggers out there and blogging has surely come a long way in our digestion of web content, the blogs are still opinions.

J. Lea López recently had a post on the From the Write Angle blog – “All Things in Moderation – Even Writing Advice” and Susan Adrian recently wrote about writer advice, too, and I loved a lot of what they both had to say, and because of that, I’m going to try hard not to repeat them too much, because you should just take a moment right now to read their posts before hopefully coming back to mine. (I usually have a song at the end, if that is effective bribery at all?)

López’s title is pretty much the runner-up motto in my life, so naturally I resonated with her post. Adrian got more ranty, and I liked that because I liked how she pulled at the thing that always bothers me, which is the tone that indicates the blog author’s tips are the be all and end all. They are important bloggers, after all. They’ve got it all figured out.

Here’s something.

(BTW, I considered saying “here’s the thing”, but that’s all cliché and there’s some writing rule that says I’m not supposed to write that. So, I’m stealing a line from Patrick Somerville’s This Bright River instead.)

Neither López nor Adrian is saying that the advice is wrong, just that we need to be critical and balance it. Probably the best advice in a similar vein that I ever read was several months back and stated that we need to absorb these tidbits and know the rules of writing in order to effectively break away from them.

This makes sense to me. Maybe I don’t need to write every day to be the most successful, but if I’m new at it, maybe I do. Maybe I have to figure it out if that works for me. Maybe I need to take out every single adverb in my manuscript. Then maybe I’ll learn how to put them back in more effectively.

It’s true that there is a lot of conflicting advice out there, but isn’t that part of the process of learning a craft? We can be concerned about what bombards a new writer, but doesn’t she need to become a critical consumer of this content? I wholeheartedly believe he does.

I feel like I’ve done exhaustive research on writing a query letter and re-wrote mine a bazillion times following all of the rules – only to find that some of the most successful queries that attracted agents were the ones that broke all the rules. You know how they did that? By understanding the rules in the first place – with the most important ones being, know your story and know your audience.

Lots of writers have lots of advice. Most of it is good. Not all of it will be good for you, and that’s okay. I’d like to help Booth out with the term “important blogger” and change it to “influential blogger” and remember that “influential” is still a subjective term. You can’t always pick and choose which rules to adapt, break, or follow. Isn’t it nice that when it comes to writing we can?

Do writing rules get in your way? Which advice bothers you the most? Are there writing rules you really think might be truly unbreakable?

As promised – the song. “Little Talks” from Of Monsters and Men. 

“There’s an old voice in my head that’s holding me back / Well tell her that I miss our little talks

Some days I don’t know if I am wrong or right / Your mind is playing tricks on you, my dear

‘Cause though the truth may vary / This ship will carry our bodies safe to shore”

8 thoughts on “Them’s the Rulz, Kiddo

  1. Nice post on an underrated issue. There are a lot of writers out there who get to some certain point and think they can change from taking advice, to giving advice. It annoys me that writers always spit out the same clichés (ironic, huh?) at new writers; write what you know, show don’t tell, get rid of all adverbs.

    What I have found is that every time I open a book by a very successful author, I very quickly find that they have broken every single one of the ‘standard’ rules of writing bandied around by everyone. Everything depends on how you use it, rather than what it actually is, and for a newbie, just saying ‘write what you know’ or ‘show don’t tell’, as though those few words mean enough to have a measurable impact on that person’s growth as a writer, is utterly pointless.

    I think, as with any discipline, as a beginner you need to know the rules, but you won’t become a master until you’ve learned that you can break them, and in what ways.


    1. “There are a lot of writers out there who get to some certain point and think they can change from taking advice, to giving advice. ”
      Exactly. I remember reading a blog a long time ago where the author tried to be a query resource – and yet, she had no agent and no published books and I thought, how does she necessarily know any more than I do? Offer your experience, and source out, but please don’t pose as an expert.


      1. That’s exactly the kind of person I can’t stand! I always feel uncomfortable about giving advice as though I know everything (I think when I started blogging I used to be quite apologetic about it), but I found that people respond better to posts that are ‘this is how you should do this’, rather than ‘I think this is how you should do this’.

        Having said that, I still try and justify all my advice with examples so that people can see the logic of it, rather than expecting them to believe it because ‘I said it, and I am a writer, you know’.


  2. Great post! I’ve really gotten into reading writing advice over the last few months and it’s hard to know what to do. I’ve found sometimes that it makes me really self-conscious about my own voice…I never met an adverb I didn’t like, for example. But it’s me and it’s how I write…does that make it “wrong?” Would I be a better writer without adverbs or just less me?

    I’ve found, however, that if I remember my tech background, I remember what’s important is what works for me. There are A LOT of methodologies in the tech world and some people are reallllly tied to them. I’ve always found it to be seriously constricting and have worked hard to simply take what was successful. And what was successful often varied from job to job and even project to project in the same workplace with the same people.

    Thanks for posting this as a reminder to always be critical of what you read!


    1. “…have worked hard to simply take what was successful.” That’s the key right there, isn’t it? Every situation is unique and it is up to us to determine how to effectively make the rules, advice, and strategies work for us.


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