The “Right” Way to Write

We all have our own way of doing things. As authors we have our own creative streak that we bring to the table when we sit down to flesh out our tales. For some, sticking to the rules we were taught in our composition classes in school is difficult at best.  We have all memorized the rote rules: “I before E except after C” and the like. My spelling was so atrocious when I was in school that my composition papers looked like they had the measles, there were so many red marks on them! Spelling aside, is there a “right” way to write?

I have been doing a little reading on Linked In, Twitter and Facebook; looking into groups and reading blogs and posts. I have noticed that some people are sticklers for the “rules” and some are not. So when we break the “rules”, are we not “good writers”? Is writing about following the conventions or about setting down what is in our hearts, even if that means that we use language in unconventional ways? Every writer has a different approach to writing; in my opinion, rules are great, they give us a guideline to go by; but sometimes, rules were meant to be broken. There are times when we just need to express ourselves in ways that go against the grain of traditions and there is just no reason to hold back or try to make what we want to say fit into someone else’s idea of what is right and what is wrong.

I am a big proponent of reading. I believe if you want to be a writer, you first have to be a reader. I encourage people I know to read everything and anything they can in order to better learn to express themselves.  Does that mean that our styles have to match the styles of the greats in our field? In a word – no; I don’t believe that we need to match ourselves to anyone, as a matter of fact, in our field, originality is what counts. Now, that is not to say go completely off the deep end and write in a disorganized, fragmented way. Our goal is to express ourselves, but it is also to get published and gain readers. If you pick up a book and have to work to understand every single sentence the author wrote, how long do you think you would be reading that book? Clear and concise are good guidelines to follow, unless you are trying to portray a character who is confused or you are purposefully trying to be ambiguous for the sake of your storyline.

Another practice that I feel needs to be touched on is whether or not to outline. Some authors say you must outline your entire novel before you  begin, others suggest outlining a chapter or two at a time, while others feel that outlining spoils their own sense of discovery and suspense. In my opinion, everyone is right; no one is wrong. What is important is following the path that works best for you.

I have seen posts where people will comment that the advice given is not the “right” way to write. I am not pointing fingers at these individuals; they are entitled to their own style. What I am saying is that we authors should have our own styles and not have to count on the approval of others as to whether or not we have “done it right”. There is no one “right way” in creative expression. Learn from others, read what you can, and then write from your heart. A good place to learn more about others’ styles and to grow in your own style is in critique groups and at writer’s conventions. Listen to what other authors are saying and writing and take from it what you want; discard what you don’t want. One person’s garbage can be another person’s treasure, as the saying goes. Not everyone is going to like your style and that is ok, as long as you like your style. Of course if your publishing company, editor or agent asks you to change something, you would be wise to consider it, but that does not mean that you have to take every suggestion. If you know that the story would lose some of its effect if you make the change, then stand up for your story.  Conversely, really listen to and consider what you are being asked to do. Sometimes we are too close to our own work to truly see that another way may be more effective.

Don’t worry about convention, about right and wrong; just worry about expressing yourself in the best way you can and painting a vivid picture with your words. If your story comes to life for your readers, you have done your job as a writer. What I have learned from my experience is:  break the rules when necessary, listen to and discern the useful from the not so useful advice, and be the writer you are meant to be.  What is one thing your experience has taught you?

9 responses to “The “Right” Way to Write

  1. Nice post, Darlene. I couldn’t agree more.

  2. Oh my goodness I just HAD to reply to this post because it touches my heart deeply. I suffer from lack of confidence especially when I am being told my spelling and grammar are abissmol or worse. sometimes these may be typos not an error in my judgment. Other times I hold my hands up and agree I am pretty poor when it comes to my literacy skills. But does that have to take away my ability to tell a story? To write from the soul? To share my heart with the world? No of course not. That’s why editors and proof readers were invented/employed. Am glad someone else understands. Take care xx

  3. Very true – Creativity is in the mind of the artist. There is no single “right way” to write. Each of us come to the process from unique perspectives, which makes our voice different.

    Thanks for the thoughts! Beautiful blog, by the way.

  4. Darlene,
    I enjoyed this post. When I was in school teachers of that period stressed content not form. My papers had measles too for spelling and even punctuation but high praise and grades for content. You point that what ever works for you is right–is right on!


  5. In my experience of writing non-fiction books, the only rule I live and die by is applying bum to seat of chair and not getting up again until those words have been typed into the page. They may be a jumble, and need a good re-write, but at least you have something to work with. And then keep applying the same rule day by day, hour by hour, until your book is done.

  6. Love this! The only “wrong” way is a way that doesn’t work for you (IMHO). I recently heard two tidbits I already treasure: “Don’t break the rules; SHATTER them” and “Only break the rules when it makes your job as a writer more difficult.” Each apply in their own situations! Sounds wishy washy, I suppose, but this is art! 🙂

  7. Great article. Good advice. For someone dedicated to their craft (there’s another topic for an article) Word spell check can take care of most things. Add grammar check that looks at active/passive voice, be careful of homophones, and most the rudimentary tasks can be addressed easily.

    Everything is there but the most important aspect (which shoots down the write by rule crowd) – voice. Anyone can know the rules of writing. I before e, active not passive, dialogue structure, pace, narrative, whatnot. But that doesn’t mean they can write. Telling a story in a fashion people enjoy hearing is an art expressed through writer voice.

    Bottom line (for me). Know the rules. That is your craft. Just like the plumber that fixes your stopped up sink and the mechanic that keeps your car running, as a writer we have a craft. You don’t have to have them going in but you must strive to learn them as your writing progresses. So know your craft. But don’t ever let craft override the writer’s voice in your head that is dictating the story. Let it flow. Write it out as you hear it, not as you interpret it inside a framework of rules. Rules can be applied any time you want but a really great story in your head is as fleeting as a first kiss. Something to be savored, not measured or metered.

  8. In serious music, there are certain harmonic progressions that “must” be followed, that is, each succeeding movement should be harmonically related to the previous movement, either in the dominant key, relative minor/major, or some close association. Consequently, no work whose First Movement is in C Minor (3 flats), Second Movement in E Major (4 sharps), Third Movement in A-Flat Major (4 flats) and Finale in C Major (no sharps or flats) could EVER be considered!!!
    I guess the First Symphony of Johannes Brahms is doomed to failure…

  9. Very good advice, Darlene! i was a great speller as a kid. NOT so great anymore. Why is that? LOL (Math was never my strong suit and still isn’t — so why’d I get a business degree?) Anyway….back to the point. You’re so right. I think every writer has to find their own style and what works for them. Wouldn’t this world be a boring place if we all did things exactly the same way? What would be even worse is if our books all sounded the same. Thanks for the excellent post!

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