Ditch “The Rules”

As a newbie to Twitter in late 2017 (see my essay, “Would Shakespeare Tweet? #Maybe”), I followed writers, agents, editors, and publishers, hoping to squirrel away bits of wisdom. Initially, many of the Tweets I saw were quotes, quips, tips, and clichés that reinforced three rules.

The “Three” Rules

  1. Real Writers write every day.
  2. Real Writers don’t wait for inspiration; they write to find it.
  3. Real Writers have a published book.

Oh, I thought, shoulders dropping. None of those rules apply to me. Does that mean I’m not a Real Writer?

Did I Have It?

I listed excuses, the most valid being a full-time job teaching writing, where classroom interactions—as rewarding as they usually are—drain my mental energy and grading buries my voice in students’ Franken-sentences.

In truth, however, my excuses hid a shameful secret: I don’t always have “It.”

My Writing Brain

I’m not entirely sure what It is, except for a presence or absence of what I recognize as my Writing Brain, which is different from the brain I use for the other parts of my life, including—ironically—teaching and grading writing. When I have It, I can write. Words may or may not flow easily, but I make progress. When I don’t have It, trying to write is wasted effort.

My Writing Brain is sensitive and, well, flighty. It can turn and burn words for ten hours straight, but it can also disappear for weeks at a time. It demands a clear head and a tidy workspace. It prefers mornings and solitude. It goes on strike if not fed and exercised regularly. Some days I provide all that, but It still decides to play hooky.

So I wasn’t a Real Writer, according to Twitter’s Rules.

Looking Beyond Twitter’s Rules

But then I noticed something: The quotes and clichés I saw on Twitter cycled. They were generated by an app that spit out collected notions on a set schedule to make the account appear prolific. Tweets composed by working writers—amateurs and professionals, beginners and old hands, poets and essayists—reflected experiences I could relate to. And they did not reflect Twitter’s Rules.

What Working Writers Do

Working writers celebrated breakthroughs and awards, but they also grappled with self-doubt, fatigue, burnout, deadlines, and inspiration drought. The longer I followed their journeys, the more I questioned Twitter’s Rules.

Questioning the rules ushered in new freedom. I stopped caring whose definition of a writer I did or didn’t fit, including my own. I just wrote when It cooperated and washed windows or defrosted the freezer when It didn’t. The biggest and most pleasant surprise that cropped up was that the less restrictively I treated It, the more willing It was to cooperate.

Twitter is a helpful resource when I use it for my own purposes and on my own terms.

I’d like to broaden the conversation, to hear about other writers’ fears and successes. How does your It work? What diva-worthy riders appear in your contract with your It? What gifts has your It bestowed? What does your It mean to you, and does that change with time or circumstances?

Hit me up on Twitter or comment below to get the conversation rolling.

2 comments on “Ditch “The Rules”

  1. I think most writers like to write when they’re “in the zone”, i.e. feeling inspired. I write nearly every day. Not lengthy chapters or full poems, but at least a line when I see or think something that I want to remember to use in some future piece. This is still writing, even if it doesn’t qualify as a paragraph or a page. If I simply want to write without feeling inspired, I read something, anything, that I can tease apart and turn into something else.
    Also, I read every day from a genuine print book. Because I have two or three books underway at all times, I can choose to read fiction or nonfiction at any time. These also help my creativity to flow.
    Yes, I’m a writer, even if you have never or will never read anything I’ve written. Being read and lauded by a retinue of readers isn’t necessary for me to claim my title 🙂

    • Anne,
      Thank you for your comment. I, like you, write when I’m inspired and have the brain power to do so. It’s admirable that you write nearly every day. I tend to think I don’t write often enough, but I forget that the emails, feedback on student essays, and correspondence with family that I write every day counts as writing. Even if it’s not published or formally “creative writing,” it’s still keeping my skills fresh. What’s your favorite genre or style to write?

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