Don’t let “the rules” keep you from writing

Belinda Betker

This author cautions us about getting so wrapped up in “the rules” of writing that we freeze up and find ourselves unable to actually write.

by Belinda Betker

Writers hear it often: know the rules!

For example, if you write fiction, there are ten rules to know and follow—or eight, or sixteen, or eleven, or twenty-five, or maybe just five, depending on the source you choose to believe. Then there are six, or twelve, or maybe eight, or just four key elements of a short story or novel to consider if you want to write well.

There are myriad other numbers of rules and elements to observe if you write non-fiction, personal essay, memoir, poetry, or any other genres or hybrids. When and where did these writing rules originate, and who is really the authority on them? How does a writer decide who to trust? Then there’s that other piece of advice writers hear: break the rules! Or only break them if you know them first.

Wondering or worrying about “the rules” can freeze up a writer so much that the universally dreaded writer’s block might set in. The proverbial blank page or blank screen staring back at you can feel intimidating, accusatory, judgemental, taunting, and all other degrees of negativity that feel overwhelming and unresolvable.

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Sometimes you can break the block by writing anything unrelated to creative thinking. Lists are great for this: a to-do list, a shopping list, or an inventory of everything in a cupboard, drawer, or closet. Write down what’s directly in front, beside, or around you. Or write personal notes in greeting cards that need to be mailed to friends or family in time to arrive for their birthday or Christmas. Write down a dream or fragment of one you might remember when you awaken. Write down lyrics the way you think you heard them in pieces of music you’re not already familiar with. Jot down anything inane, bizarre or disconnected from your everyday world. Any of these can spark your creativity literally back to life.

The bottom line could be just to write what you love, and hopefully the rest of the world will follow along.

What can also work to break through the immobility of a writer’s block is to read, to listen, to observe the world around you, and just as importantly, pay attention to the world inside your mind. Writing lives first in your mind and heart, where you inhabit worlds no one else does until you get it onto page or screen or audio. From there, it can move into the readers’ or listeners’ minds, taking on layers of meanings and experiences beyond you, which is a motivating incentive for those of you who write for the desire to connect to others.

Something else writers have all heard is to “write what you know,” but how is that even relatable to writers of fiction, sci-fi, or fantasy? Those alternate worlds aren’t real in everyday life, but the writer inhabits them, and often their “knowing” is simply that there are worlds inside them they’re compelled to write about, and when that happens it’s well worth following wherever the writing leads you, whether it develops your original idea or not.

There’s also the advice to “write what you love.” If you love to read poetry, write poetry; if you love fiction or fantasy, write that. Conversely, if you don’t love historical fiction, fantasy, mysteries, or any other genres, try reading them. You’ll either discover a genre new-to-you that you can appreciate, or you may feel even more inspired to write something new.

The bottom line could well be to just write what you love, and hopefully, the rest of the world will follow along.

Belinda Betker (a.k.a. Dyke Van Dick) is a prairie-born writer whose first book, Phases, is a poetic memoir revealing a tomboy’s coming-of-age journey through to coming out in mid-life and performing as a title-holding drag king. Her poetry and award-winning haiku are also published online and in various anthologies, literary journals, and chapbooks. Belinda is a founding member of two long-running Saskatoon writing groups: Sisters’ Ink and The Obsessors, and was also a founding member of the Saskatoon Writers’ Collective. Belinda lives in Saskatoon with her Australian wife and their rescue dog, a springer-spaniel/terrier cross.

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