Rule #5

Let your ears flap in the wind...be free!
Let your ears flap in the wind…be free!

Why don’t I heed more experienced writers? Why do I tear my hair out forcing my story to adhere to my outline? And why must I spend weeks on one horrible scene that I eventually end up cutting out anyway?

How many times have you read something like this?

Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff, but it sets you free.

– From Pixar’s 22 storytelling rules

I still resist writing advice like the above. Though my writing process can be frustrating at times, I like it. I enjoy creating story outlines, character profiles, and researching world-building details. I think that’s the fun part!

The real writing part I don’t like so much. Don’t get me wrong, there are times when the words flow and there’s something that clicks, and that can be very enjoyable. But those instances are rare.

Would I experience those writing flushes more often if I just let ‘er rip as Pixar staff suggests?

Maybe. But then I would forever be coming up with the mess I presented you all with last week. A story that doesn’t make sense.

Is the trick to set yourself free with that first draft, then go back and re-write, cannibalizing the good bits from the original text?

How “free” are you with your writing efforts?

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22 thoughts on “Rule #5

  1. Thanks for the post! Love the series.

    I won’t say it was my “natural tendency” but I’ve learned to pitch and re-work things. It can be quie liberating: from the line-by-line to whole scenes, chapters and characters.

    While revising chapter one of my current project, it was surprising how often it turned out the paragraph was better when I omitted entirely the description or sentence I had been struggling to get right.

    With characters, if they don’t serve a compelling story need, out they go! No more spending time to differentiate and define them.

    For me, it’s similar to a realization I had for “writer’s block”. I’ve learned that writer’s block, for me, is my gutt telling me that what I have in mind for the next bit doesn’t fit: if I don’t want to write a scene, it probably shouldn’t be in the book. (And if I don’t know what to write, I haven’t figured out the proper next step, forcing myself to write isn’t going to help.) Similarly, if I’m struggling with a character, a bit of description, getting a scene right, it probably doesn’t need to be there or may need a complete re-work.

  2. Ha! Just saw this quote on WordPress:

    “There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.” ~ W. Somerset Maugham

  3. This will sound really eerie-schmeerie, but I listen to my story. Background material is great, as creating it first helps me not stop in the middle and figure things out… but if I get to a point in the story where the background doesn’t fit, I toss the background/outline/whatever, and follow the story. So the only advice I can give is to trust yourself and listen to your story.

    1. This is really good advice. It may not work for all writers, but for me, learning to be flexible as made a big difference. Recognizing that I will change major elements as I go has helped me to not overplan (why bother if it’s going to change anyway) plus as the story develops, a richer story emerges.

      For that reason, when it comes to plotting, I prefer to focus on the major inflection points or turning points, because they help provide useful guideposts, but also don’t feel beholden to them: if they need to change, I change them.

      1. I agree, but I just can’t seem to be flexible. I think this may be my downfall and I’ll have to try to remedy that…somehow…

  4. I think this is a good one at it is one that I (and probably most of us) fail to heed at the times we most need to hear it. I did it in my novel (I will send you some sample chapters, I promise). First draft had a lot of waffle and too many characters; I ended up having to condense a couple of characters and cut out some lengthy tranport scenes with some important conversations and move them elsewhere. The writing felt tighter for it when I realised that readers will not care to know how person A gets from London to Southampton for example… they just accept that the journey is a) possible and b) has happened and on both counts, unnecessary to show it happening.

    1. Yes! I do like the ‘hop’ part of their advice and I actually do do that, but combining characters (I need them all!), and letting the story go where it wants? That’s harder for me. Hopefully, with time I’ll figure out ways to trick myself into letting me be free. 🙂

  5. Interesting post and some very insightful comments from everyone. I tend not to plan much detail, but begin to write with a few definites for the story. Not being too precious about your writing, being flexible enough to cut/replace/delete as needed is the key. I have written scenes in a story, I thought important, but later realised that was just my perception at the time and cut the scene, to keep the reader focused on the essentials. Good rule to prevent getting bogged down.

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