Breaking the Rules

Madison WI Capitol at Dusk by Laurie Buchanan

Madison WI Capitol at Dusk by Laurie Buchanan

Thursday – April 22, 2010
I arrived at the Writers’ Institute in Madison, Wisconsin a day early to take photographs and get my bearings. A college town, it’s instantly clear I missed the memo about must-be-seen-in accessories. I’m not decked out in ear buds, one dangling fashionably down the front of my shirt, while holding a razor-thin cell phone to my other ear; or stylishly in front of my chest, index finger sliding gracefully across the glass face several times, brows furrowed, appearing to search intently for something.

Friday – April 23, 2010
Literary Agent Katharine Sands said to the audience of writers, “Writers … in the end, you’re opening a restaurant and your job is to fill seats with people and get them to try your signature dish.”

Saturday – April 24, 2010
In regards to getting a fresh pair of eyes to read your manuscript, author John DeDakis said, “There comes a time when you’ve done all the damage you can do, and now it’s someone else’s turn.”

Sunday – April 25, 2010
Author and teacher, Laurel Yourke, talked about “the new math,” meaning—Whatever doesn’t add, subtracts.

I share this feeling, especially as it relates to breaking the rules of writing. Be cautious of advice that starts with “never.” Absolute rules don’t always apply. If keeping a rule subtracts from the story, break it! An example that’s just begging to be broken is “Write what you know.” I don’t agree—at all. That’s what imaginations are for. If we think of rules as guidelines, we’re more apt to bend, stretch, and break them when it’s best for the story.

Listen with your heart,

Laurie Buchanan

Whatever you are not changing, you are choosing.”
               – Laurie Buchanan
Copyright © 2010 Laurie Buchanan — All Rights Reserved.

46 thoughts on “Breaking the Rules

  1. Oh, good, a rule-breaker post! We rule breakers are smiling from ear-to-ear. Time to follow rules; time to break them. I am thinking about starting another blog (oh no!) called Sometimes Yes, Sometimes No. ha ha, so very glad you had this magnificent time at your workshop!

    • Kathy – I can just see you grinning from hear to ear! With your love of words/language/writing you would LOVE the Writers’ Institute conference. I know you’ve got books inside of you just itching to be published. As such, you may well want to think about attending next April.

  2. Good morning Laurie
    You depict my experience when I was Benedictine University. A foreign world sometimes. Too bad the young ones do not realize that learning is a lifetime process.
    Great sharing of your experience,emotions,and feelings while you were pursuing your passion,


      • I am thinking tonight that I somehow do not picture you breaking the rules! LOL

        As a manager I am continually pressed against the wall about laws, regulations, policies etc….some are not an option, and some are great areas for myself to take big risks and go for it!

        Have a good evening. I am dyding with this time change in Indiana! Thinking about calling it a night.


        http://You know my address!.com.

      • Kim – You can’t picture me breaking the rules? Oh dear, I stand toe-to-toe, hands on hips with rules on a regular basis. I’m not as overt about it as I used to be (or as my son would say, “in the olden days.” To hear him tell it I crossed the plains in a wagon train).

        How long are you going to be in Indiana?

  3. Yes, Laurie wonderful expression of your experience!
    Bullet points of learning and suggestions. Offering ideas of breaking the rules. I think all rules as guides, and if you are listening to your heart you/we will know what we need to do when and where.
    Since I am not a writer, I am more a of a reader, I break the rules for I don’t know what they are! Ignorance is bliss, So to speak…

    The Photograph is great, the surround view is very good!

    I am Love, Jeff

    • Jeff – I resonate with your words, “… if you are listening to your heart you/we will know what we need to do when and where.” Thank you for the compliment on the photograph. I had fun racing around the building once fully to determine the best shot. It was getting dark quickly so I didn’t have a lot of time to make up my mind.

  4. Great post, Laurie. After reading this it brought to my attention that, who’s to say the person making these sets of rules were right in the first place…food for thought…..hugs and welcome back:)

  5. Laurie, Thank you for sharing these valuable lessons for those of us that didn’t make the course. You are now on the way to bringing in a brand-new breed of writers to blogs, comments & books. You are bringing out the desirable and the attainable joys of writing. It is nice to have purpose in the arts. I met a dancer once time but she kept moving to communities that looked at that art form as something not done by nice girls. She became stable once moving to the correct environment, which happened because of having a good coach showing her how to BE in a more puritanical place while she was organizing the move.

    When someone is starting out… I like the theory “just write” and with practice it becomes pure joy of expressing imagination and observation. It’s ok to throw some of it away too is something I discovered.

    • “It is nice to have purpose in the arts.” Kathy, I like your statement, thank you for sharing it here. As always, I’m grateful for the energy you bring to Speaking from the Heart.

  6. Hi Laurie, thanks for this. I had similar feelings after attending the San Francisco Writers Conference (Sands spoke there too, can’t remember if she made the restaurant analogy). I’m curious how much focus was on the changing field of publishing, ebooks and self-pubbers? I felt many of the staff and students were hanging on dearly to traditional methods while others were eager to discuss the new opportunities. I was also amazed at the lack of intuitive from many hopefully writers to take action to get others reading their work, just praying some publisher was going to whisk them off their feet and make dreams come true. Many didn’t have blogs, sites, social media accounts, all things available for free to develop reader-base. I wrote about that in this post:

    • Jason – I’m glad you stopped by today. Due to audience questions, there was quite a bit of focus on the changing field of publishing, much of it due to technology, and another part due to the weak economic climate. It didn’t seem like too many people were embracing traditional methods. Rather, they were quite eager to hear about other options. I was thoroughly impressed with Suzanne Isaacs of Ampersand, Inc. Private Publishing. She had been with McGraw Hill for eight years prior to going out on her own. There was a gentleman, John Lenchek, who gave me his card for a newly established self-publishing house, Green Earth Publishers. I have not had the opportunity to check them out yet.

      Your point is well taken in regards to non-action on the part of would-be published authors. It is key/vital/imperative to establish a platform (regardless if you write fiction or nonfiction, but especially so for nonfiction writers). A blog, website, eNewsletter, social media, public speaking engagements, awards, etc., are not optional.

      I hope you’ll visit again, Jason. I will make point of visiting your website — thank you for providing a link.

  7. About breaking the rules…
    I heard somewhere that you should learn the rules, use them and then play with them. I think it’s important to learn the rules first or least it is helpful for me.

    About writing what you know…
    As a straight, white, female I think it is possible to for me have a protag who is a gay, native, male. I have an imagination — why not.
    However, I think I need to be careful when I do this. The fear is that I will rob someone of his voice in order to underline a negative stereotype. Words have power — I need to use them wisely.
    Before wiriting my protag’s story. I think it’s useful to engage in dialogue with a friend who is a gay, native, male. If I truly listen to him I can gain valuable insights that I can then use to enrich my story.

    • Leanne – You can’t see me, but I am giving you a standing ovation (perhaps you can at least hear my thunderous clapping). You hit the nail squarely on the head — both times. And I’m glad you shared your thoughts here, thank you.

  8. Great post Laurie… and as a person who usually only learns the rules after breaking them and then decides she likes her decision in the first instance – I have come to think of rules as “something for consideration.”

    I like all the bits you have shared here and in your previous post. And I also appreciate all the comments that add to the discussion. Yippee for me, us and you… as I skip down the path of today.

    • “… as a person who usually only learns the rules after breaking them …” Perhaps we were separated at birth, Terrill, I certainly identify. I’m glad you’ve enjoyed the interaction on Speaking from the Heart, I have too. I also enjoyed your thought provoking Sprout Question today at Creative Potager. Thank you for stopping by.

  9. And then there is always…”Write from the heart”. It just has to feel good, and reading your blog always does just that – for me. Still on and island til Thurs, but very productive. Love the shells you left.

  10. Hi Laurie,

    Great points.

    Been dwelling on the idea of rules a bit lately.

    I don’t think it is really about breaking the rules, though I have certainly done enough of that in my life.

    It seems to me it is more about finding a higher set of rules that one can more productively use to achieve one’s purpose. In obeying the higher rule, the old lower rules break.

    Gravity is a rule that is around, and doesn’t give up easy.
    One needs to design good wings to bend it.
    With rockets we are able to escape from earth’s gravity, yet still find ourselves in the gravity of our star (the sun) and our galaxy.

    I’m looking at internal rules a bit today.
    Yesterday the specialist informed me that the melanoma I had removed from my temple 18 months ago has returned, and I have three tumours, one in my cheek and two in my neck, and I will likely lose my major neck muscle (the SCM) and my left salivary gland, and may lose control of the left side of my face, when he operates in 3 weeks.

    It will be an interesting test in reality to see just what I can create in those 3 weeks.



    • Ted – I am very sorry to hear the news that you’ve received. One thing I know is this … if there’s any human being on this planet who has the ability to create a design that will bend the projected outcome, it’s you. Will you please give me the exact date of your surgery — I’d like to be very specific in holding HeartLight for you.

      • Will do Laurie.

        Current plan is for surgery on the 19th May NZ time, but don’t have theater times yet – he was talking 5 hour procedure.

        Given the getting a huge hole in my temple wasn’t enough to stop it spreading, I have doubts about the long term use of further surgery as a treatment option.

        Also given that the surgeon failed to find the tumour in January when I went to see him about it, after I put myself on three weeks of high dose vitamin C, has me putting myself back on 1 gram C an hour, and looking for options, and stories from others who have treated melanoma and survived by non-surgical means. First hand stories are what I am looking for – lots of contradictory information on the net.



      • Ted – Thank you for this information. In addition to mega doses of Vitamin C (I totally applaud this), have you considered going on a completely raw, vegan diet (with the exception of seafood)? I don’t have any first-hand stories to share with you, but if you type in “raw diet for cancer patients” you will find information that you may find helpful. In addtion to seafood, the top ten cancer fighting foods are: broccoli, tomatoes, blueberries, red cabbage, red beets, spinach, garlic, whole wheat, oranges, and strawberries. Beans (legums) are also good. As a fisherman for a good portion of your life, I know that I’m preaching to the choir. But that’s okay:

        The most powerful anti-cancer food of all is a daily helping of seafood – for the complete range of the 72+ natural trace elements. The complete natural range of the 72 trace elements is the best anti-cancer food there is. This is the reason why the breast cancer rate is 21 times lower; the lung cancer rate is 36 times lower; the prostate cancer rate is 137 time lower; and the colon cancer rate is 187 time lower among the Sinhalese, and most likely, the people of India as well. Unlike Sri Lanka, India does not have a public healthcare system, hence the lack of figures for India.

  11. I feel the rule book is essential for writers Laurie. It’s propping up the wonky leg on my table, meaning I can write faster. Best place for it.

    Writing is a personal activity, yes there are rules for spelling and grammar but you can bend them and the best stories don’t have to have a beginning, a middle, and an end.

    I heard a true story about a writer who went into jail to talk to the prisoners. He gave them pens and paper to write down anything they wanted. One guy was so excited he wrote down his life story and didnt leave gaps between the words.


    • Kevin – Your comments made me laugh out loud — thank you! It’s noon for you right now in Scotland. You’re at WORK — whoohoo! I hope you’re having a terrific day!

  12. Hi, Laurie, I had to snicker just a bit as I read about your experience. Yep, been there, done that, got the T-shirt. I also got to see what the fashion world of tomorrow will be designing for us, and I’m sticking with blue jeans. All the way up too, no fanny showing here! I do love your rules of engagement. Think of all the great books we’ve read that didn’t actually happen…Alice-in-Wonderland for a start and Winnie-the-Pooh as second. As much as I love my own imagination I sure get a kick out of looking at someone else’s for a change of scenery. Great post!

    • Sandi – I’m with you. Give me blue jeans that completely cover my behind and I’m good to go. And to add to your list of books that deliver great stories that never really happened … “Time at the Top” and “A Wrinkle in Time” come immediately to my mind. Oh, and “The Time Traveler’s Wife” and “Timeline.”

  13. Laurie — thank you so much for sharing this part of your experience . . . I love to break the rules! Especially when I don’t get caught! The part about writing what I know would fill a very short book. It is through writing that I find out what I know.

  14. Hello Laurie,

    In the context of this post the only rule I break is to not write to be published. Yes, odd but true given the sediments of the post, but I believe the moment you begin to write for an audience is the second you stop really writing. The second you begin to prepare the food with nothing in mind but to fill the seats you run the risk of turning it into a fast-food chain instead of that corner restaurant that serves just the best darn catfish this side of the Mississippi.
    Such that while both are open to the public one comes from the integrity of the owner the other from the purposes of those who can profit from it.
    Now does this mean one should not try to publish their work, absolutely not, and by all means it should be pursued by those who wish to follow such a path. One should certainly look for those who may be in keeping with their personal values, and I deter none from doing so.
    I just believe, and this may be breaking a rule here, a work of art, a real work of art of which writing is to me, does not seek to be written so as to be appealing to all tastes, have removed its originality and be found on every street. No, but rather to be enscibed in such a way that once it is tasted it is never forgotten, finds a special place in your heart and though it may be miles away its images linger as if right around the corner.


    • Robert I feel strongly in alignment with your comments. I once had someone ask if I could paint one of my paintings in shades of blue to match their couch…. I asked if they had considered buying a new couch to go with the painting. It was sassy of me but I couldn’t resist. I believe they got the point but they did not purchase the painting – thankfully:)

  15. I feel like singing today!

    It’s these changes in latitudes, changes in attitudes
    Nothing remains quite the same
    With all of our running and all of our cunning
    If we couldn’t laugh we would all go insane!

    Writing, we all do it differently. I certainly don’t follow the rules and my buddy Larry is always telling me how I should format what I write. But come on dude…(he hates these) (And Laurie told us we should do this either – talk to the reader). BUT IT’S ME!!! I LIKE IT!!!!

    Everyone have a great day!

    • Beth – I can hear you singing this morning! For other people reading this converesation, Beth and I live about 10 miles apart as the crow flies. I know full well that getting you to follow rules would be like roping the wind … it’s not gonna happen. Further, I like it that way!

  16. Robert, when you are writing to please yourself, and I do mean you as in You-Robert, that when I enjoy the story the most. I’ve always enjoyed your off-side take on Life, especially when it leads me over hill-n-dale right back to the front door. we weren’t lost after all! Just having an adventure!

  17. Laurie you asked about whether I wrote Leading Raspberry Jam Visions to be published and if I had a specific audience in mind.

    1st publishing – I knew I was going to self publish from the start which meant ensuring strong editing support (3 editors) and a good self-publishing house that would get my book out on a global market.

    2nd Audience – Robert commented that a real work of art “does not seek to be written so as to be appealing to all tastes, have removed its originality and be found on every street.” This is what I agree with so strongly and where I really stuck to my principles in writing and publishing Leading Raspberry Jam Vision: Women’s Way.

    I am a feminist. I write from a solid feminist background both in theory and in practice at a time when it is no long popular. My writing is specifically about women’s leadership. I write using long sentences and describe difficult concepts and how to apply them in your leadership. I offer no quick fix or easy solutions. To succeed the reader/woman leader will need to practice and apply the principles over time.

    Here is a snippet of the publishing advice I was given by other writers and colleagues: Make sure your book is appealing to a wide mainstream audience, both men and women. Make sure it can be completed in a cross-country flight. Make sure that the sentence are short and the ideas simple – people don’t want to have to think and their attention span is short. Solutions should be offered to a problem and they should be sexy and glamorous and have a WOW factor.

    I ignored all of this advice and wrote the book I would want to read. I was uncompromising about what my reader may want to hear and wrote what I felt need to be said. I expect my reader to be intelligent, curious, resourceful and an independent thinker. I expect my reader to be able to make wise decisions and ones that work best for them. I offer possibilities.

    However, once the work was written then, as a self-publishing author, I had to package the book for a specific audience while being true to the original work and to the reader who invests her time to read it.

    When I did a reading last week… I can honestly say that I am still pleased that these are the words I put in print 2005. And these are the words that have my name attached to them. And these are the words that readers write to me and thank me for having written.

    Oh, Laurie I hope this helps to answer your questions but it is so very long for a blog comment….. thank you for asking and reading my lengthy response.

    • Terrill – Your explanation is beautiful and I sincerely appreciate the time you took to write it. In the reading of your words it is abundantly clear that our train is on the same tracks. I know you’re heading out today — have a wonderful time.

  18. Pingback: The Writers’ Institute UW-Madison 2011 « Speaking from the Heart

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