Breaking the Rules

This post is only about a month overdue. Been busy editing and writing (mostly editing).

This year I decided, relatively at the last minute, to do an informal NaNoWriMo. Many of the habits it’s said to help teach—turning off the internal editor, writing quickly, and devoting hours to writing on a regular basis—are a few of my particular weak points. So for this month, I’d aim to write fifty thousand words.

But since I was only doing it for myself, for the formation of good habits, I told myself, I could break a couple of the rules that I felt didn’t apply to me. In doing so, I committed a fatal error.

My first mistake was that I didn’t start a new project specifically for NaNo. I didn’t understand why it’s advised that writers start a brand new project for the month. I didn’t understand that it’s easier to build and keep momentum on a new novel than it is to build momentum anew on a current project. I didn’t understand that the enthusiasm for a new project helps to push through when you don’t feel like writing.

The other, and more fatal, mistake that I made was not limiting myself to working on one project. I poured the words into whatever project I was inspired by that day. Because of this, I’m unable to easily track how many words I’ve written over the last month.

As a result of my mistakes, I only wrote about 25K words for NaNo. I call that a failure. But it was worth it, because my mistakes taught me a lesson. Or rather, taught me that a piece of advice I’d internalized for the writing itself applies to related processes as well.

Brandon Sanderson has advised in the past (and I’m paraphrasing rather than running through the entirety of the Writing Excuses podcast again to find the quote), “You have to know a rule before you can break it.” You need to know the reason a rule is in place, know what breaking it will cost you, and then make an informed decision about whether it’s worth it to break the rule in your particular case.

Not following this advice has cost me, so I thought I’d pass it on.

If anyone’s interested, I might explore some popular rules in fiction and reasons I’ve found for breaking them!


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