When Not to Follow Generally Accepted Guidelines

There are times when following writing rules, or generally accepted guidelines as I prefer to call them, is helpful. But sometimes we’re better off not following them.

When Not to Follow Generally Accepted Guidelines

When writing a rough draft ~ A first draft is intended to be fun. We can deny our internal editor admittance and grant our creative spirit free rein. This is not the time to be obsessed about adverbs or worry about a split infinitive. The goal is to get the story on the page. There will be plenty of time for editing later.

When exploring our voices ~ Freedom is key when we’re seeking to discover our voices. Rigid adherence to rules could thwart our attempts to infuse our stories with our unique styles. We need to feel free to experiment.

When working through writer’s block ~ When words aren’t coming and have to be tweezed out one by one, worrying about our output would be counterproductive. At such times, our primary concern is producing words, any words. Rewarding ourselves for progress is key. Rules can wait.

When doing so serves our stories ~ While rules or guidelines serve us most of the time, on occasion we’re better off making exceptions for the sake of our stories. For example, we’ve heard the best dialogue tags are said and asked. However, I have a young character who, when shocked by the unexpected response of an adult she fears, squeaks a line of dialogue. The unusual word choice achieves just the effect I was after. When we know the guidelines and follow them the majority of the time, choosing not to, if done intentionally and rarely, can enhance our stories.

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When do you choose to not to follow the generally accepted guidelines?

Has ignoring the guidelines helped you write a first draft or get through writer’s block?


About Keli Gwyn

I'm an award-winning author of inspirational historical romance smitten with the Victorian Era. I'm currently writing for Harlequin's Love Inspired Historical line of wholesome, faith-filled romances. My debut novel, A Bride Opens Shop in El Dorado, California, was released July 1, 2012. I'm represented by Rachelle Gardner of Book & Such Literary. I live in a Gold Rush-era town at the foot of the majestic Sierras. My favorite places to visit are my fictional worlds, other Gold Country towns and historical museums. When I'm not writing I enjoy taking walks, working out at Curves™ and reading.
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8 Responses to When Not to Follow Generally Accepted Guidelines

  1. So true. If I followed all the rules while writing my first draft, I’d never finish it. 🙂

  2. Sherrinda says:

    You are spot on, I believe, in the times to let the guidelines pass us by. I liked that you said “to find our voice”. Sometimes I feel like my voice gets stilted when caged by the rule master. It is in freedom when I can hear my voice ring out. Sometimes, though, I think it needs to be caged…it gets out of hand, at times! 🙂

  3. Wendy says:

    I love getting all crazy with my first draft. It truly is a freeing feeling (until I read over it during edits and constantly say, “What was I thinking?”). Apparently I wasn’t and sometimes that rocks and sometimes it rock not.
    ~ Wendy

  4. Cindy R. Wilson says:

    I’ve recently had trouble getting through a first draft because of following guidelines. So I think that’s a great time to let the creativity flow and worry less about rules and what the end result will be.

  5. I didn’t have a clue about the guidelines when I wrote my first draft, except that I had a good grip on English grammar. Other than this, I wrote without restraint. I am learning and revising where necessary to conform, unless, as you point out, there is a logical reason to deviate. I appreciate your posts that give writers knowledge of those generally accepted guidelines. I’m sure, as a first-time novelist, I will do well to pay attention. Thank you for sharing. Blessings to you, Keli…

  6. Thanks for this post today, Keli – – and I agree completely! 🙂 If I didn’t ignore those guidelines while writing the first draft, it would definitely take muuuuch longer! 😉
    Have a wonderful weekend, Patti Jo

  7. lynn says:

    I do tend to be a ‘rule follower’ and am learning to let go so my voice comes through in my writing. And the advise is different, the guidelines vary. I was recently guided to avoid dialogue tags altogether! Regardless, letting the rules go to allow our creativity to flow is important to develop our voice, our stories. Thanks for your helpful advise.

  8. This is such great advice, Keli!! I’m definitely trying to walk a tight line when it comes to remembering rules, but not letting them slow my first draft down or muffle my writing voice.

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