Spend any amount of time studying the craft of writing and you’ll come to realize that there are too many “rules”, and a lot of the time, these rules conflict and contradict each other. There are some standards that have withstood the test of time, such as “read, read, read”, but that seems more like plain old common sense more than anything else. “Write everyday”, “Write what you know”, “Kill your darlings”, the list goes on and on. Jeff Somers (The Electric Church, We Are Not Good People) saw this early on when he began to write and has made somewhat of a career of his unconventional approach to the craft with his popular panels at conventions. The writer who insists you should never wear pants while writing compiled his thoughts into a very organized book called Writing Without Rules: How to Write and Sell a Novel Without Guidelines, Experts, or (occasionally) Pants.
As the title implies, this writing guide breaks down misconceptions we all have with the craft of writing to help free creativity. Split into two parts, Somers’s approach to the craft takes a realistic and simplistic approach to writing that’s quite different from the glut of guides on the market. Part I: Writing a Novel (How to do it without breaking a sweat or putting on pants) covers the things you need to write a story, which surprisingly, isn’t a lot. You don’t need fancy software or a high-end computer or a jeweled fountain pen and expensive paper to write; pen, or pencil, and whatever paper is handy. Just write. Somers covers ideas, dialogue, setting, characterization, and plotting, using time worn “rules” he’s (and most every other writer) heard over the years and turns them on their heads with new concepts, providing fresh ways to overcome familiar issues. He writes about what kind of details actually work in a setting, and why you really don’t need to get into all the details about your characters. One particular segment deals with the pantsing vs. plotting discussion and offers up a new term: plantsing. Surely you can guess what it means, but sometimes you need that little nudge to know that you can use whatever works for you until it doesn’t work, then know you can switch gears and try another method. He even suggests reverse engineering your story to make it sing, which is something all writer’s do to some degree at the editing stages anyway. Here, you have permission, so get to it.
Part II: Selling a Novel (How to make a dime (sadly, probably literally)) covers the business end of writing. When do you need a lawyer? What does your agent do? How do you protect your ideas? Somers blasts through the myriad of misunderstandings about the business part of the craft with personal advice, simply because he’s been through it before, or knows someone who has. Building around the knowledge that your special and original idea for a story is one that’s been had, he breaks down the fallacies and exposes the truth about copyrights, story rights, and your rights. Also covered is self-publishing, freelancing, self-promotion and social media, and everything you ever wanted to know about agents.
Will everything covered here help you get published? Well, no one thing ever will, except for your own hard work and dedication. It does help to know a little of the craft and business, but you don’t need to make a career out of it, unless you do actually want to make a career out of it. For the most part, Writing Without Rules is about breaking free of any kind of restriction that hinders your ability to put words on the page. Why worry about all the “rules” when you need to be writing? Jeff Somers know a little bit about writing, and the business of writing, and with his book, he aims to make sure those things never stifle your creativity. Whether you’re just starting out, or a seasoned professional, anyone could stand a little refresher about the most important part of being a writer, the actual writing.