(Because that’s how Picasso did it too.)
1. Show, Don’t Tell
Heed it: This is mostly likely the first thing anyone – my English teacher was one of them – tries to drill into your head about writing. No one wants to be told everything in a story. That’s boring. The fun in reading a story lies in making the connections, discovering the characters, anticipating the plot yourself.
Break it: Yes, leave some room for your readers to figure out the story. Yes, you shouldn’t dump info all over them. But sometimes, when you need to get a point across, consider doing it directly.
Vary your narrative style according to character (is this a straight-shooting character? or does she soliloquise a lot?), occasion (is it an action scene or a scene to LEADING UP to the climax?) and pacing (for instance, if it’s a scene in between action, there would be more room for imagery)
2. Write What You Know
Heed it: It’s easiest to write from the heart if you’ve had first-hand experience or knowledge about something, after all. Plus, you don’t run the risk of sounding like an idiot when you write about something you know jack-squat about, like osteology or 18th century geopolitics.
Break it: If I wrote what I knew, there’d be very little I can write about. Besides, how did J.K. Rowling manage to write a phenomenal worldwide best-selling series about witches and wizards in a magical boarding school when she’s a Muggle?
My point is, writing is supposed to help you grow. It makes you consider possibilities beyond your scope of expertise. That’s why you do research. You learn more things the more you write.
3. Adverbs Are Evil
Heed it: Stephen King once famously said, “The road to hell is paved with adverbs.” Adverbs are seen as the lazy writer’s way to describe everything in her story. You don’t really realise you’re using too many of it, and it becomes crutch after a while.
Break it: It’s a bit of a stretch to think all adverbs are evil, isn’t it? Just don’t go nuts with it, but don’t rely on it to convey your point. Consider each adverb carefully (irony intended) before weeding it out.
4. The First Scene Is Your Hook
Heed it: Many writers think they have to start with a dramatic high-octane car chase scene or a character on the brink of death in order to grab the reader’s attention. And it’s probably true for most readers that they would rather read about a character in the midst of an important, RELEVANT scene than how a character goes about her day after waking up.
Break it: Having said that, plunging straight into an action scene right at the beginning of your story might very likely serve to confuse the reader. It is just as important to grab and RETAIN their attention as it is to give your readers a sense of where your story is taking place, the critical information about the character(s), and why they are in this situation and why readers should care.
5. Honour Your Daily Word Count
Heed it: There is nothing to it but sit your ass down faithfully everyday and write. Discipline is one of the most important qualities to have, if not to cultivate, as a writer. And setting a daily word count is a pretty effective way to keep track of your progress – it holds you accountable to yourself.
Break it: If you can’t write 3,000 words every day, don’t force yourself to write 3,000 words every day. You’re only going to get burned out. But that doesn’t mean you kick back on the days the writing isn’t going well.
Try to write something – a page, a paragraph, even a sentence – everyday. And spend the rest of the time digging deeper into the story: plan your next few chapters, ask yourself more questions about your characters and brainstorm, brainstorm, brainstorm. Think about all the possible ways you can take the story further.
The key is to keep thinking, keep writing, keep getting involved in your story.
6. Art Has No Rules
Heed it: You are the only one in the way of your own writing. Let go, and let the words flow. Censoring yourself as you write will only make you frustrated and unable to move forward. Get the first draft out. You will have plenty of opportunity to rewrite and edit later.
Break it: There are rules, but it is only when you know them that you can go about breaking them.
Now go find your process and write your novel. May the Muse be in your pocket.