Writing Rules with guest writer Katie Zezulka

Writing Rules with guest writer Katie Zezulka

Big news guys!  Silversky Press in debuting our first ever guest post!  Introducing Katie Zezulka, here to shed some truth on the “writing rules” you think you need to follow, but really don’t.  Katie has been writing for 15 years (wowza that is a long time) and spends most of her time in the romance genre, though she also loves a good fanfic piece.  You can find some of her fanfiction here and you can check her out on facebook here.  Bonus, she’s also got a short story in the works that she will be sharing soon.

Now without further preamble, check out what Katie has to say about the Writing Rules!

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You can find rules about writing everywhere. Numerous authors and writing sites have lists of their top ten. They proclaim right and wrong, black and white as if writing isn’t a deeply personal experience. My list of writing rules is a little different because when it comes to writing there aren’t any rules! I am going to give you a list of common (and mythical!) rules and tell you why I don’t think they work.


  • False rule: If you want to improve your writing, write every day
  • Actual rule: Write when you can, and you will get better

You don’t need to write every day to be successful. I attended a conference a few years back and the speaking author, Anne Ursu, was asked if she writes every day. She responded no. She said some days, if she didn’t feel like writing, she would do other needed things, such as cleaning or laundry. That way, when she had inspiration, there was nothing stopping her.

That spoke to me. I completed NaNoWriMo and I did write every day that month, but I remember one day when I wrote maybe 60 words in half an hour. That is two words a minute people.

I can’t tell you how many times I have sat staring at a blank screen because I had nothing to say. It would have been more helpful to do the chores that needed to be done. That way, when the words were flowing from my fingertips I wouldn’t have to stop to wash the dishes or throw in a load of laundry.

This isn’t to say you should never sit there and make yourself write. That will happen more than you want to admit, but occasionally real life rears its head, so don’t beat yourself up. You can always write tomorrow when you might not have the urge to toss your computer out the window. Also, maybe life and kids make it so you are lucky to write once a week. Then simply write once a week. Don’t feel bad, you are already writing so much more than most people do.

You are a better writer every day you write, not only when you write every day.


  • False rule: Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialog and never use an adverb to modify the verb “said”
  • Actual rule: Don’t let your dialogue tags do all the work

Okay, this one has some logic behind it, but it is a simple, lazy way of preventing you from being lazy. Here’s what I mean.

“Don’t you dare walk away from me!” she screamed angrily.

“And don’t think you can tell me what to do,” he laughed back.

Now read this one.

She stomped her foot angrily. “Don’t you dare walk away from me,” she said.

Turning around he smiled at the sight of her standing there with a scowl and her hands planted on her hips.

“And don’t think you can tell me what to do,” he said.

The humor in his tone made her glare.

The idea is that when you use “said” you have to use actions as well. You have to show that she is angry, rather than just saying it. That leads to better writing. Show not tell and all that good stuff.

This is one of those rules that, once you understand it, can be broken. Of course, there are conditions to breaking this rule. The main one being keep your characters busy. Keep them moving and gesturing while they talk.

She stomped her foot angrily. “Don’t you dare walk away from me!” she raged.

Turning around he smiled at the sight of her standing there with a scowl and her hands planted on her hips.

“And don’t you think you can tell me what to do,” he retorted, the humor in his tone making her glare.

The second and third versions are basically the same except for the dialog tags. Keep characters moving and your writing can be great without using said a dozen times each page.


  • False rule: You need an outline before you start writing
  • Actual rule: Do whatever it takes to write the first draft

Here it is, the pantser vs planner debate. As a pantser I can guarantee whoever made this rule must have been a planner. I’m sure of it.

When I go into a piece, I do it with an idea, a few characters, and perhaps a setting. Nothing drawn out and nothing written down. Just bits in my head. A lot of the time I start with a scene somewhere in the middle and work from there. That works for me. I tried planning one year for NaNoWriMo and by the time I got to writing the story it wasn’t long enough and I got bored. I simply didn’t care about it anymore. As a result, I never finished it.

If you pants your work you should be prepared to do massive revisions not needed by planners. Your timeline might not add up and you might realize who your character is halfway through. You might even decide to chuck half the novel and rewrite it.

In the end, if having an outline works for you do that. If you want to go in with a single line of speech that is fine too.


  • False rule: The first draft of a book – even a long one – should take no more than 3 months, the length of a season
  • Actual rule: The first draft of a book should take as much time as needed – as long as you FINISH

The fact of the matter is a book is going to take however long it takes. Not everyone has the time to devote to writing an 80k word manuscript in 90 days. Also, not everyone writes in the same way.

The point of this rule is to not get hung up on things, but I would rather spend more time on something and have it be something I am proud of.

Still, always remember if you never finish a first draft you will never have a story you can do anything with. Spend the time you need shoveling sand in for the first draft, but you do need to finish shoveling if you’re ever going to build the castle. Make that the goal rather than giving yourself a timeline.


  • False rule: Work on one thing at a time until it is finished. Start no more new books
  • Actual rule: Be careful that voice, character, setting, etc. are unique to each story. Make sure nothing blends from one story to another

Like all rules, this one has a method to the madness. First off, it encourages you to finish what you start so you won’t have 3 dozen stories saved on your computer like some people do, cough me, cough cough.

Another thing it does is help prevent your characters and settings from bleeding together. If you have three stories going on at once that means at least three main characters and three different settings. You want each of your characters from different stories to stand out and be individuals. With so many main characters things can start to get fuzzy. It can be hard to keep straight which story has a woman seeking her dream job and which has a woman doing everything she can to hide from a traumatic past.

But sometimes I need a break from a story so I move on. Other times I am stuck and want to actually accomplish something, so I go to a story I do have ideas for. Or maybe I just wrote a really hard, heartbreaking scene and I need something light-hearted to distract me.  Find the right balance for you, Work on as many things as you feel you can, trying your best to actually finish what you start.

Final words of caution. It can be dangerous to follow every little plot bunny that hops by. Make note of plot bunnies for other stories somewhere, and only go deeper if you really have to. Also, you should avoid jumping around too much. Don’t work on more than one story in a day, and certainly don’t hop around during a single writing session. My advice is to take a break with something new when you need it, but never forget where you were. Always go back to your work in progress because nothing is more heartbreaking than writing for years and having nothing finished to show for it.


  • False rule: Write in the 3rd person unless a really distinctive 1st person voice offers itself irresistibly
  • Actual Rule: Tell the story how you think it needs to be told. No one knows it better than you do

It is easier to tell a story in 3rd person. You never have to worry about the reader not knowing things because the main character doesn’t know them. Still, sometimes, to find the right way to tell a story you have to try different angles. I have one piece I have rewritten twice, or maybe it was three times. I tried it in 3rd person and then in 1st person from two different characters.

My issue with this rule is that sometimes it isn’t clear how best to tell the story. Unless you play around with it you could miss something amazing.


  • False rule: If it is boring to you it is boring to your reader
  • Actual rule: You might need a beta reader to determine if your story needs some extra spice

You will reach a point where you wonder if your story is boring, or if the emotional scenes fall flat. You wrote it. You have read it countless times. Don’t even try to guess how many times it has played in your mind, because it is probably a million. You know who is going to die and that the shy kid in the back is going to save the day. You know the villain shows his heart of gold by the end, and you know who gets the girl. You are too close to guess how someone else is going to view your story. Good news! Beta readers are here to help with just that. Find a beta who reads your genre and let them take a look. Only by handing your story to a few pairs of fresh eyes will you know if it needs a little more zing.

Here are the “rules” you need to follow. Do what it takes to get yourself to write. If you want the TV on playing a movie on repeat for 3 days (me) great. If you want to write while listening to opera wearing some headphones to block out the real world, go for it. Face a blank white wall or stare out a window. Use a typewriter or a pen and paper. Write love stories or horror stories or children’s board books. Write every lunch break or maybe just Saturday morning while the kids watch cartoons. Wear a Santa hat or just your underwear. Use the word said or the word shouted. Write from any point of view. Write from EVERY point of view. Take a week to write a story or a decade. What matters is that it works for you. Nothing more and nothing less.

Thanks for reading our first guest post!  And a huge thank you to Katie for writing it!  Keep writing friends, we believe in you!

 

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