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Monday, February 15, 2016

When to Stop Being a Beginner

Over the last year or so, I've done a few posts on breaking writing rules, and how and when to break them right. I want to emphasize that these writing rules are very important for beginners, and if not a complete beginner, someone who hasn't mastered the writing technique yet. But there is a point where you need to realize,

you aren't a beginner anymore. 

There is a point in your writing endeavors where continuing to be a stickler to writing rules will actually hurt your story. I've seen it happen before. I was doing some work editing someone's story once and could tell the author had worked very hard to get to where he was in terms of writing style and concepts. His prose sang. I mean, sang. They were beautiful. This guy was dedicated, and he wasn't afraid to work, hard. Then I came to a sentence that had beautiful parts in it, but it just had too much. It had too many concepts in one sentence. Too much fantastic writing in one sentence. It was too rich and too much for a reader to take in in one sentence. It needed to be split into two sentences, but in order to do that, the author would have to use the word "was," a no-no when it comes to learning to write beautiful, specific, condensed prose.

When it came to style, this writers wasn't a beginner anymore. He'd mastered the "was" rule. Which also meant it was time to loosen his grip on the "was" rule. Not let go of it completely, but loosen. 

There are tons of great writing rules out there that help us move beyond "beginner." In fact, without them, we may never have made it beyond the beginner phase. But you need to be honest with yourself about when it's time to stop being a beginner and loosen your grip so that you really can take your writing to a higher level.

Master writers aren't masters because they stick to a couple of writing rules masterfully. They're masters because they've learned the rules and know when to break them--they use the rules to write better, but they don't let the rules hold them back. They don't let the rules put a ceiling on their progression.

If you never let yourself break the rules once you've learned them, you won't be able to take your writing to the next level. You need to stop being a beginner, and take the training wheels off the bike. That doesn't mean you throw away all the knowledge you've gained from those training wheels--you still use all the same muscles, all the techniques you learned with them on, if you didn't, you'd fall off the bike--but you need to take them off before you can move on to grinding railings.

So if you've been working your tail off following the rules, honestly ask yourself, is it time to stop being a beginner? It might not be, and that's okay. But if you've mastered the "was" rule, the adverb rule, the "Show, Don't Tell" rule, the complete sentence rule, or any other rule, I give you permission to stop being a beginner and start working toward becoming a master. You can start today.


  1. As I've grown as a writer, I've come to be more at peace with the idea of breaking the rules. I never understood how so many well-known writers could consistently break the rules and get away with it until I realized that most writing rules are better described as guidelines for the beginner. It's damn hard to write a good story without breaking lots of rules.

    1. I've grown to be more at peace with the idea too. And I feel like we should call them guidelines. It can very hard to tell a great story without breaking them! My best writing doesn't try to adhere to ALL the rules.


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