Rules of Writing Encourage or Discourage

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By Linda Robinson

After I joined a large critique group a few years ago, I was terrified to press Send for my first 2,000-word submission. How intimidating to put my work out there, knowing it was open for target practice. I wasn’t worried about grammar and punctuation, but about the story itself.

Nail-biting nervous, I waited for the first critique and opened it with sweaty palms and nausea churning in my stomach. The review was intimidating. More scarlet words than black littered every page. Strikethrough sentences had been rewritten in the reviewer’s voice, and right margins bulged with comments. I sank back in my computer chair like a deflated balloon and berated myself, thinking I must be a masochist.

The next critique didn’t murder the chapter in red ink, and I felt better. Then more came in, and the “new rules of writing” comments were as plentiful as fleas on a mongrel. Some were good, others were comical, and a few bordered on being absurd. One critter mentioned that writers should no longer use the “to be” verbs was and were (which probably stemmed from the “deep point of view” style of writing), and every occurrence in my submission had been highlighted, even in dialogue. I laughed out loud.

Since I was in the group to learn how to be a better fiction writer, I refused to let a daunting critique-or several-hinder my goal. As time passed, plenty of encouraging critiques and helpful comments arrived. I took the suggestions of many critters, lined the birdcage with one or two others, and got second opinions about the rest.

On a serious note, many of the so-called new rules were invaluable. One kept me aware of little things that can degrade a big story. For example, words we say all the time in conversation, like very, really, and others, become boring in a novel when overused. And I applied “use stronger verbs” in lieu of using ly adverbs.

Other rules were better bent or sometimes even broken, because if I constantly worried about not breaking them all, I’d never get the manuscript written. Worse yet, if I followed all suggestions, I’d lose my own writing voice. I chose to hang in there with tough skin and an open mind, and the benefits proved priceless.

My main goal now is to write. Write until I fall asleep in my recliner and almost drop my laptop (true experience). Get up in the morning and write until my characters are through talking. Write until the story is finished.

Because story trumps.

Then I’ll start at the beginning and read, self-edit, reread, and probably write more-as many times as necessary. Only then will I make sure I haven’t broken the major rules and guidelines before I pass chapters on to my small group of critique partners, and later my editor, to work their magic.

How many of you have been overwhelmed by today’s novel-writing dos and don’ts?

Linda RobinsonLinda Robinson, author of four published novels, writes Christian fictional stories of faith, friends, and family relationships. While writing the third novella in a new series depicting Natalie Hudson and best friend Tori Rhodes from teens to mature adults, Linda guest-blogs and writes short stories for magazines and contests.
Read more about Linda by visiting her web site and reading her blogs at:, Facebook: and Twitter:

Comments 0

  1. Sometimes it can be difficult to find when the rules improve or hinder the message I try to convey. If I followed every one of them to a letter (doubtful the rebel inside me could) my words would be like stale bread.

    Thanks for the reminder that the story trumps all, Ms. Robinson!

  2. Thanks for this post, Linda! I’ve been part of a large critique group for about a year now, and I still sometimes get overwhelmed by the differing opinions. I’ve learned a lot, but the reminder that sometimes it’s best to laugh and move on is just what I needed 🙂

  3. Connie, by all means, do join. The blessings indeed outweigh the angst, and you will learn so much. Go into it with tough skin, remembering that no matter what you write, you cannot please everyone. Take what you can use to make your writing better, yet, still tell your story in your own unique voice–and forget the rest. It gets easier. :)Blessings to you.

  4. I am grateful to your group for the help they give to you. But, I think you are an awesome author even without critiques going over your work. Your thoughts are pure and amusing at times and thought provoking other times. You connect with the reader from the start and keep us interested throughout the entire book. Don’t change too much. Love ya.

  5. Thanks for your beautiful insight! I love your blogs!! I’ve written so late to where my laptop has almost fallen, too. My crit partners are the most wonderful ladies with great suggestions and knowledge about the rules of writing that I don’t have. I agree, story trumps. Don’t get too bogged down with the rules, keep writing. BTW, I love your books!!

  6. Thank you for a well written, important topic, Linda. This shows very clearly that writers are also readers and commenting on anyone else’s manuscript is still very subjective. Over many years I have been blessed by very helpful comments on manuscripts. However, as well as critiques, over the years I have experienced unacceptable changes made to a couple of manuscripts by publishers’ editor, including changes to that first important sentence and paragraph. In more recent years, another editor changed quite a lot of my dialogue. It may have made it very grammatical and with correct punctuation, but not the way my characters spoke. I later discovered that editor had majored on editing non-fiction.

  7. Thanks, Mary, for your comment. That’s my view exactly. All critiques, and even edits from “pro” editors, need to be weighed carefully. I believe dialogue should be mostly left alone because it’s usually how the author intended the character to speak and is sometimes part of his/her development. I wrote a book that started with a character speaking poor English, but he had a desire to better himself and learned to speak properly. I think we should remain open to all ideas and suggestions, but that doesn’t mean we have to accept all. 🙂

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