These are my 11 rules on writing, taken and collaborated from what I have learned in the past 4 years as an undergrad.
Some of my classmates and I celebrating the National Day on Writing with some students from the Fargo area, October 20th, 2016.
1. Whenever it feels impossible to write, write.
Your sentences don’t have to be long or perfect, but they should make sense to you and the reader. Sometimes there isn’t a perfect time for you to write. Sometimes I sit down at 3 PM and can’t seem to bust out a draft, and that’s okay. I struggle with insomnia, and most nights I find myself tossing and turning until 2 or 3 AM. There are so many things going on in my head and in the middle of the night I find myself flipping on my bedside lamp and opening up a new word document.
2. Shakespeare didn’t pole-vault.
Write about what you know. Write about what you are passionate about. Write about something that you can make connections to. If you need to do research because parts of your writing deal with things about which you know little or nothing, that’s okay. That’s where research belongs, far in the background and the back story as you can get it. One of the most influential English writers didn’t write about pole-vaulting, he wrote about what he knew.
3. Trust the process and quiet the negative voices.
Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, making friends or getting laid. In the end, it’s all about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life as well.
4. Be confident in your ability to write, and set a goal.
Aim to write 150 words each day, it can be very difficult for you to find time on some days, and I’ve found that by setting a low demand will help make it possible. On better days, this goal of 150 words is just a mere start; and often I end up writing more.
5. Deadlines are your friend, use them.
Keep a planner handy to jot down due dates, or a notebook to jot down any ideas that arise for another assignment or free write. You must complete the one that you are working on first. Throughout college this is something that I struggled with. I would have multiple papers assigned for different classes at once and would find myself mixed up and blankly staring at an empty word doc for hours.
6. The above rule needs to be repeated.
I put the pro in procrastination (Okay, so does my friend Ben Norman). I have done shocking little work when I have tried to read multiple books at once, I’ve half-assed assignments and projects when I put more time and effort into another. Shut off the inner editor and complete the task at hand.
7. You don’t always need to write to change the world
…but it should impact and inspire the people in it. See rule #3 for more detail.
8. Write to express yourself.
I believe that writing is a pure form of expression. You detail your innermost thoughts on the page and in doing so you get to know yourself a little better.
9. Get up and move.
Your brain deserves a break, go for a walk, or better yet go for a run- clear your head. On days that I’ve got a lot going on and can’t even begin to think of writing for an assignment, I make time for a walk or a run. This helps me have time to myself. Listen to some tunes that you enjoy and think about what’s going on in your life that you could write about.
10. Put together a book shelf of your own.
Choose a book (or 10 ((no more than 20)) to guide you with the kind of writing you like best. My bookshelf looks like the header picture above, some of my favorite authors include John Green, J.K. Rowling, Rainbow Rowell, Jay Asher, Judy Bloom, Beverly Clearly, F.Scott Fitzgereld, Mitch Albom . I have numerous shelves of books from authors I cant remember the names of, but this is my shelf of inspiration..
11. Language is arbitrary, so is your writing, and so are these rules.
based on random choice or personal whim, unrestrained and autocratic in the use of authority.
Rules create a standard, and when you create a standard you also create the ability to drift away. Words are spelled a certain way, which means they can be misspelled. Commas are only used in certain ways, which means they can also be misused.
It’s been the rules that intimidate students. When rules are set academic writing becomes unfathomable to them.
English rationalizes why it’s incorrect to end a sentence with a preposition and not start a sentence with a conjunction, but as language makers, we can change these rules at anytime.
Yet for many students, not knowing these rules can cause anxiety about writing and often steer them away from wanting to write.The technical rules of writing need to be taught and learned but they’re not much different from tweet or snapchat rules. After all, not being able to use “bae” in a correct context is just as embarrassing as misplacing a comma.