Writing preferences are not necessarily rules

Happy Friday, fellow humans!

I’ve been pondering lately—okay, for several years as well—about how many times I’ve come across “writing rules” that on second thought, I’d realized were just author or reader preferences.

If you follow me online, you’ll know exactly how I feel about phoney rules like “you must write every day.” In fact, I had been asked to write an article about this topic for The Writers’ Union of Canada’s magazine, Write. (You can find the reprint of my article on this website at The Ableism and Privilege Behind “You Must Write Every Day”.) Spoiler: there’s never one writing method. To insist there is can come across as insensitive, privileged, and bullying.

Another “rule” that keeps popping up for me is how we shouldn’t write first-person narrative, where the storytelling is from the protagonist’s point of view. Equally insistent are folks who say we shouldn’t write third-person narrative, the omniscient point-of-view. Hm. This kind of reminds me about the skinny jeans argument. I have witnessed jeans going from flared to fitted untold times since I was a kid. Wear the jeans you like! Same with writing. Choose what feels comfortable for you! Heck, in the Nothing Without Us anthology, the narrative altered between second person and first person, and we thought it was brilliant.

So-called “rules” of style can even exist within genre writing. If every book in a certain genre were written so similarly, I personally would find that boring. I like a genre garden that grows many types of flowers! I mean, I threw in an Austenian ballroom scene in the middle of The Stealth Lovers, which was a military space opera about two legendary warriors. I like classic romance and the pew-pew-pew! It worked for me. Might not for other folks, but it made me happy.

And at the end of the day, shouldn’t we enjoy writing? Do we have to manacle ourselves with so many made-up “standards” that we lose our own storytelling voice? As an autistic person, this makes me feel one is forcing me to mask. Sorry, not gonna happen. I have climbed so far out of having to mask in real life that I don’t want to do it in writing. I don’t want to write like anyone but me. Okay, sure, as with all authors, I will have influences, but at the end of the day, I’m gonna want a scene involving a delectable sponge cake on a science vessel. Does it add to the story? Well, have you met cake?

Anyway, I guess what I’m trying to say is you might be listening to an opinion and not a hardcore rule. It’s okay to have writing style preferences. We all do! But to push them on others might not be so okay. It might come across as author-splaining and turn off the other person completely.

I personally love getting critique as I am developing a story. It helps me so much. But at the end of the day, I have to discern if the notes fit with my style, my story, or not. This takes practice. I tend to really consider deeply what folks say during the writing process. However, there might be the occasional time where I think, This seems to be a “you preference” and not a flaw that needs correction.

So, sometimes opinions just are opinionating. My hope is that we accept the diversity of writing styles while acknowledging folks have their preferences. My other hope is that author circles encourage and not push.

That’s my preference, anyway.

A greyscale close-up of me, standing in front of a blank background. I am a white woman with short silver hair cropped closely on the sides. I am wearing dark metallic rimmed glasses with rhinestones on the side. I’m wearing silver hook earrings with flat beads and a plaid shirt.

Cait Gordon is an autistic, disabled, and queer Canadian writer of speculative fiction that celebrates diversity. She is the author of Life in the ’Cosm, The Stealth Lovers, and the forthcoming Iris and the Crew Tear Through Space (2023). Cait also founded the Spoonie Authors Network and joined Talia C. Johnson to co-edit the multi-genre disability fiction anthologies Nothing Without Us and Nothing Without Us Too.

Featured photo by Joshua Miranda on Pexels.com.

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