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The writing rule no one talks about

August 13, 2012

I’m about to violate one of the great commandments of writing: I’m starting revisions on a piece I finished writing yesterday. Conventional wisdom says that you’re supposed to let it sit a while, as much as six weeks, maybe more, before you revise. I’ve tried that and I wind up starting out to revise the stupid thing and end up writing another first draft.

Each first draft gets successively better, but I’m sort of tired of rewriting the same story over and over again. That’s not revision. It doesn’t get me closer to the end of working on this piece and the beginning of trying to sell it. So I figured I’d jump back in and start revising immediately. (I did, too. I took a break to work out and eat lunch, then I did some revising.)

I think it’s going to work. I have a list of things I want to get done in this draft, adjustments to make. I want to stress a specific aspect of one character. Another character was largely left out of the latest first draft and I want her to be more involved. And though first chapter is good, it doesn’t introduce one of the main characters as likable, which is important.

So I’m diving back in, even though I’m not supposed to.

And that’s because with every rule of writing, there’s another, higher rule that no one talks about much. It’s the key to when and how to apply any other writing rule you might stumble upon.

Here it is…are you ready?

Unless it works. (Or, depending on how the rule is phrased, unless it doesn’t work.)

If you find a rule that seems like it’s not right for you, try ignoring it. See if your way works. If it works, keep with it. If it doesn’t work, do it the way the rules people would have you do it. There’s nothing to be lost by trying.

What rule do you tend to ignore?

  1. August 13, 2012 11:16 am

    Lengthen and revise the best part of your story, to overshadow the rest.

    There are great parts of your story, and there is the filler that connects them. The problem is we tend to make the great parts and the filler the same length. To make your story shine, add to the great parts, to diminish the not-so-great parts.

    This also works in areas of expertise. If you are an expert at something, wax on about it, to minimalize your lack of expertise in another area. Many writers do just the opposite, continuing to revise and expand on parts of the story they have no passion or expertise. That is a very unsatisfying effort. It’s easier to expand or revise the parts done well, or that you already have a passion for.

  2. August 13, 2012 2:17 pm

    I totally agree. Whatever works, works. Rules, schmules.

    But I’m curious about something. You said, “I have a list of things I want to get done in this draft, adjustments to make.” When in your process did you create this list? Did you create the list as you were writing the draft (and is it a first draft) or did you do a read through of the entire manuscript after you finished and create the list that way?

    It seems to me that it takes some form of distance from the manuscript to create a list like that, and I’m just wondering if your form is not time, then what is it? Maybe it’s your super power!

    • Chris Hamilton permalink
      August 14, 2012 7:16 pm

      As I wrote it and cleaned it up, I noticed things I wanted to go back and adjust. Rather than doing it right then, I made a list. Things I realized the characters wouldn’t do, or would do differently than I wrote. Distance is required, but I tend to just go beginning to end, and rather than go back for things, just make notes.

  3. August 13, 2012 4:42 pm

    I always make a habit of listening to advice, trying it that way and then modifying it (if it works) or tossing it (if it doesn’t work). It has helped immeasurably to pull ideas from others, but things rarely work efficiently for me if I don’t shape them to my own quirks and habits.

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