As writers and artists we often consider ourselves to be free spirited and creative. Yet, I bet every single one of us has a “writing rule” or set of rules that we follow almost religiously.
- You must write every day
- Write what you know
- Don’t “head hop”
- Don’t use adjectives
- Read a lot
These rules are BS!
At least Jack Kerouac had the decency to call his list of rules “Beliefs,” because that’s exactly what they are.
They’re lists of what each author believes about writing and guess where beliefs come from? From inside you. So why would you latch onto someone else’s beliefs?
Well, speaking from experience we latch onto them because they’re coming from people we connect with or want to connect with.
For example, I have a book titled “Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing.”
I adore Elmore Leonard and if there’s one writer I aspire to be like, it’s him. But his rules are bullshit. “Never open a book with the weather,” is rule #1. Well, I’ll never start a book with “it was a dark and stormy night,” but it might make great sense to start with the weather particularly if the weather impacts the story.
Why Following the Rules is Bad for Your Confidence
They manipulate your expectations.
Instead of writing your way, you create rules and expectations about how you’re supposed to write.
You feel restricted – that’s never good for confidence. you follow the rules and get rejected, criticized, and admonished. Why not do it YOUR way? At least then you can feel good about your efforts even in the face of criticism.
Like limiting beliefs, rules can derail you and affect your confidence. In fact, in many cases the rules you believe and the thoughts you believe are intimately connected. To help you learn to recognize your limiting beliefs and confidence triggers, identify the “rules” you hold hard and fast to.
For example, Nora Roberts has a motto that she runs her career by. “butt in chair.” So it’ might be easy to adopt this rule and then to believe that if you’re unable to sit and write all day long that you won’t ever have the kind of success you desire.
- What rules do you buy into or repeat often?
- Do they support you?
- Do you believe them to be true? Why or why not?
- Do they make you feel strong, confident, and capable?
- If not, get rid of them.
- Identify rules you need to break, let go of, and modify.
- Create your own rules for writing.
Finally, consider why you’re writing. What motivates you to pursue this activity and why you’re a writer. At the end of the day, when everything is stopping you in your tracks think about what matters. For example, would you write if you knew you’d never publish? Personally, I would still write and perhaps I’d write more freely and creatively without publication concerns hanging over my head. Would you still write if your worst fears were true?