Think in Terms of Guidelines, Not Rules

There's a distinctly rebellious air about the Muse and the Marketplace Conference this year. Come April 6-8 at Boston's Park Plaza, #Muse18 presenters will be letting loose on the writing rules that have held our manuscripts hostage for far too long. To kick off the conversation ahead of the Muse weekend, this year's Muse series explores the writing, publishing, and workshop rules, conventions, and accepted norms that authors, agents, and editors at the Muse love to hateand why they'd love to see them broken. Some presenters will also offer their own rules or conventions that they want to see adopted in writing and publishing spaces. This installment comes from Crystal Kingauthor of FEAST OF SORROW, which was longlisted for the Center for Fiction's First Novel Prize. Crystal will be leading the Muse session Problem Solving for Novels in Progress (Full).

I'm an odd stickler for rules. Always RSVP. Use your damn turn-signal. Don't be late. I don't get really bent out of shape when others break the rules but there is a little smiley face inside me that turns upside down when violations occur. 

So of course, when I was an author just getting started, I looked for all the writing rules to follow. I wanted to do the right thing. I wanted to write THE best-selling book. I wanted to cut out all the crap and get down to brass tacks and churn out the best writing from the get-go. I even wrote a blog post on my own blog awhile back with the rules that resonated most with me. But if you go through them, they aren't the hard and fast rules, because...

luckily, when it comes to ME having to follow the rules, I am perfectly fine breaking them when I see fit (although when I'm late for something it gives me more anxiety than it should). And while I tend to like rules in many ways, there are times, particularly when it comes to writing, where they are more harmful than anything else. I've held onto this .gif about Anne Rice for years, because I think it sums up a lot of what I mean by that:

And this is where I have to wonder if W. Somerset Maugham was right when he said that, "there are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are."

So if no one knows what they are? Why are we so worried about them in the first place?

I find that the best three rules that always work for me are:

  1. Write
  2. Edit.
  3. Sit my butt back in the chair, repeat.

All the rest? With the exception of the Oxford comma, for the most part, chuck them.  

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About the Author

Crystal King is a 30-year marketing, social media and communications veteran, freelance writer and Pushcart-nominated poet. She is the author of the FEAST OF SORROW, about the ancient Roman gourmand, Apicius, and THE CHEF'S SECRET about the famous Renaissance chef Bartolomeo Scappi. Currently Crystal works as a social media professor for HubSpot, a leading provider of Inbound marketing software. Crystal has taught classes in writing, creativity, and social media at Harvard Extension School, Boston University, Mass College of Art, UMass Boston and GrubStreet writing center. A former co-editor of the online literary arts journal Plum Ruby Review, Crystal received her MA in Critical and Creative Thinking from UMass Boston, where she developed a series of exercises and writing prompts to help fiction writers in media res. Find her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or at her website:

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by Crystal King