Don't Get Stuck in the Rules

Wednesday, September 23, 2015
by AMagill (Flickr)
I love working with authors through the classes I teach for WOW! and my editing business. But one thing I find when working with new writers or even someone who hasn't published yet is this great anxiety over RULES. I had it once--heck, I might even still have it. (Remember, to do as I say, not as I do.) But if you are too stuck in rules, then you might lose the passion, soul and voice of your story.

What rules am I talking about? Well, if you know me, I do believe grammar is important, and you should try to avoid typos if at all possible. But I'm talking about questions and worry over things like:

1. Should I put all the thoughts in italics?
2. What font should I use--Times New Roman or Courier?
3. Should I use chapter numbers or titles?
4. Do I type "THE END" at the bottom of my page?

and so on--you get the idea. Writers have enough to worry about, including but not  limited to:

  • plot
  • characters
  • how to begin
  • how to end
  • subplots
  • description
  • realistic dialogue
  • a muddy middle
  • sensory detail

So whether or not to use italics should not be at the top of the worry list. I think in our race to get published and perhaps noticed, we tend to forget as much about perfecting the items on the second list as we should. It's easy to do because writing and getting published are one of the most difficult things you may ever undertake. So focusing on the mechanics and "rules" can sometimes make this overwhelming process seem like you have some control--I can put these words in italics and type the end! No problem. I got this.

But we all know that the story is what is important. Really. Writing the best beginning you can. Creating a character that all readers want to be or at least get behind. And leaving readers with an ending they will never forget.

So if you find yourself in great anxiety over a question, such as: is my heading correct on each page? instead of: Is my character arc strong enough? Take a deep breath. Relax. Envision yourself in your story and take off with it.

The biggest thing I tell all my students is just be consistent. Try to get all the rules correct and do things according to industry standards if at all possible. But above all, be consistent and write the best story you can.

What do you stress about when writing a story?

Margo L. Dill is a children's and YA novelist and writing teacher. Find out more at


Angela Hood-Ross said...

Great advice. Thank you for posting. This is exactly what I needed to read during this stage of my writing.

Margo Dill said...

So glad it was helpful! :)

Donna Volkenannt said...

Good post, Margo. Thanks for the suggestions, especially to relax. I tend to get stressed about not being consistent and not staying focused. But I'm working on it.

Powered by Blogger.
Back to Top