Break the Blogging Rules

4 years ago

It showed up as a meme on various blogs: writing advice by Elmore Leonard. Writing advice tends to pop up on blogs, the artistic medium of choice for those who like to play with words. I am drawn to these lists like spiders seeking warm rooms in winter.  Who knows when someone will discover the magic key that unlocks novels, or figure out a way to make a positive post (that does not contain baby animals) go viral every single time? 

But so far, I've left every single list of Blogging Dos and Don't or Ten Best Writing Tips with the same thought:

Break the rules.

Image: Chickspirit via Flickr

Some of Elmore's advice sounds useful on the surface: "avoid detailed descriptions of characters."  Except I immediately thought about Truman Capote's Holly Golightly and how her character is built on the streaks in her hair.  As a reader, we discover a lot about what type of woman she is when we learn about the "ragbag colours of her boy's hair, tawny streaks, strands of albino-blond and yellow, caught the hall light."  He then enters a long paragraph of physical description, from the now-iconic black dress and pearl choker to the ruddy health in her cheeks.  I'm really glad Mr. Capote ignored Mr. Leonard's rule.

"Don't go into great detail describing places and things."  Again, can you imagine reading the Harry Potter series without those in-depth descriptions of Hogwarts?  What if JK Rowling had merely left it as a stone castle, and that's all you knew about it?  Good writers draw with words: they don't add in superfluous details, but they also don't expect readers to hold up skeletal works and keep them intact.  Bone structures, without connective tissue and muscle, have a way of falling apart.  And the same is true for a book.  So again, Elmore Leonard's advice doesn't hold up.

Ignore Mr. Leonard's advice.  You should use prologues, modify with adverbs, and throw in a suddenly or two. 

It is possible to do all these things and not have them harm your book in any way.  I find it sad to think that a generation of writers believe there is something wrong with adverbs.  There isn't, if you use them sparingly.  The only problem comes when you use adverbs like teenagers use junk food -- in place of a real meal, or in this case, thought.  I find the fact that people are being taught to carry all dialogue on the word "said" damaging.  I want people to call things out.  I want people to scream.  I want people to ask.  Mostly, I want people to use all the words in the dictionary and not be told that some of them make them "bad writers" or "weak writers."

The same goes for every blogging list I've ever read.  If you want to be a successful blogger, you're told you need to have an active social media presence on every social media site.  You need to comment more.  You need to write every day.  You need to respond to comments.  Do not use a cluttered layout.  Do participate in blogging carnivals...

Break the blogging rules.

The frustrating thing about these rules is that they're pretending to be a formula.  They're telling you what you should do to be a success.  But the truth is that you can follow all those rules and still have a blog that no one reads.  Or you can follow none of those rules and have a blog that a lot of people read.  With the exception of "check for typos" and use a layout conducive to easy reading, there are few rules that need to be followed when it comes to blogging, and certainly no formula that makes people want to read a blog. (Except, perhaps, hooking up with someone who has a big social media presence who is going to feature your work.)

It follows that if you don't post, people don't read (since, you know, they have nothing to read).  But you don't have to post daily.  You don't have to post at the same time of day.  You don't have to have an ongoing series to have people want to tune in regularly.  If you get something out of Twitter or Facebook or

Pinterest or Goodreads, jump right in.  But if you're only on those sites to build traffic, drop them.  They're not worth the stress or your time if you're only on those sites because you read that you need to be on those sites in order to succeed as a blogger.

I'm not saying to ignore all the helpful advice that people offer each other along the way; I know that I will read the next top ten writing tips list when it makes the rounds on people's blogs.  I'm just saying read it all, and then break the rules.  Forge your own writing path, whether it is for a book or blog.  Because enjoying the process is important, and you can't enjoy the process if you're stressed over following what everyone else thinks.

So ignore them.

Melissa writes Stirrup Queens and Lost and Found. Her novel about blogging is Life from Scratch.

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