There Are No Rules for Writing

by Heather Curry Self

I enjoy reading how other authors write–and what they enjoy about their writing process. What works for them. But that’s the key thing: What they enjoy writing about their writing process. How they get the story down is how they get the story down.

James Patterson says outlining your story before you do anything is key; Stephen King says outlining doesn’t work for him because he doesn’t exactly know where the story is going to go, so don’t bother. James Ellroy writes everything down by hand with a pen on yellow, legal-sized notepads first and then copies them into a computer. Woody Allen writes all of his scripts on an old, manual typewriter and then has an assistant transcribe them into a computer.

With both novels I’ve written (Coming Home and Backbeat), I didn’t use an outline as I fall into the camp King’s way of thinking. But I have another story that’s so complex I’m going to have to outline—at least loosely—key points I need to connect. I did a lot of notepad writing with Backbeat, but never did with Coming Home.

Once, during a conversation with a woman it came up that she was an “established” author—whatever that meant; when I asked her if she was published as I’d love to read something she evaded the question. I then mentioned I’d published one book and was now woking on another.

She asked me what my process was. Did I outline? Did I set a specific time? No, I replied, I didn’t outline. I generally set a specific time on weekdays as I worked full-time, but sometimes on weekends the time varied. Some days I didn’t write at all as I needed a break.

What followed was her telling me what I should do and what I shouldn’t do. She outlined how she wrote and then went on to say I should use her writing process because it worked for her, and I shouldn’t follow mine because it didn’t work for her. She then went on to say she knew better than I did about how to write—why I should follow her process.

Yes—she actually said that she knew better than I did about how to write and continued to push me to agree to follow her method. When I thanked her and said I’d certainly keep her suggestions in mind, but, for right now my process was working splendidly, she got quite upset.

Your writing process is your writing process. Which means there is no “wrong” one to follow. (I’d be willing to bet that the authors I mentioned above would agree.)

If you’re just stepping into the realm of authorship and aren’t sure where or how to begin, maybe try the process of an author you admire. Then discard what doesn’t feel right to you and try something else. If you find you work best with an organ grinder and a monkey dancing next to you—great. I’d find it distracting, but I’m not you.

Writing can be grueling and frustrating at times. Sometimes it feels like you’re trying to push an adult giraffe through a door made for a small dog—but there should still be an overall feeling of enjoyment. And that starts with your personal writing process and rituals—not mine, not King’s, not Patterson’s or Ellroy’s, not Allen’s—unless of course you find that their process (or a combination of them) works for you.

That’s perhaps the only “rule” I might suggest you follow.

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