I've always liked rules. The clearer they are, the more precise, the better. They make life so easy: Do A, you know you'll get B. Simple as that.So of course I approached writing the same way. I took classes and workshops. I took copious notes and filed them away. I memorized the rules I was taught by at least a dozen writing instructors. And I worked hard at implementing every one of them. There were the typical ones: write in the active voice, not passive; avoid forms of the verb "to be"; avoid adverbs and adjectives, avoid cliches, never start a story with a character waking up. Others weren't so typical, like don't let a paragraph run longer than 10 lines, use at least one intriguing word in every sentence, and never start a sentence with "and" or "but." I figured if I followed all the rules, the result would be some damn fine writing. Right?
Unfortunately, it didn't work that way for me.
First, I started to get conflicting "rules" from different instructors and mentors. Then, I stopped being able to write anything without battling with that inner voice telling me how many "rules" I'd just broken. Hey --it would say -- you just wrote "was." You have to find a better a word than that. Usually by the time I'd worked "was" out of the sentence, I'd blown my whole train of thought. It seemed the more rules I learned, the less capable I was of getting the ideas in my head out onto the page.
Then I started to notice something -- and I'm still embarrassed to admit it took me so long. The novels I read, the authors I loved, didn't follow all those rules. They started sentences with "and." They used is's and was's with abandon. They didn't shy away from long paragraphs.
So, I stopped believing in rules. I still believe in guidelines and suggestions, but I believe more in getting your story out the way you feel it should be told. These days I'm working harder at listening to my inner storyteller, and not my inner writing teacher. The novel is the great virtuoso of exceptionalism: It always wriggles out of the rules thrown around it ~James Wood's HOW FICTION WORKS