Sunday, 28 February 2016

Five Writing Rules I Break - Guest Post Phillipa Ashley


Phillipa is a well known name in the word of romance and women's fiction and I am delighted to welcome her as a guest on my blog. I asked her what writing rules, over the years, she's allowed herself to break and whether there are any that remain sacred!

Over to you, Phillipa.


Five rules I’ve learned to break in ten years of writing…
…and one I never would

1.  Write what you know. Erm... not necessarily. Ages ago, I read a quote that said: ‘write what you want to know’. Personally, I always include a big element in a book that I don’t know anything about so I can go and find out. That’s usually at least two jobs/lifestyles I know nothing about and dozens of emotions to explore. Otherwise I’d be really bored.

2.  The editor is always right. Not always, not even 90% of the time but he or she is usually paying so learn to pick your battles. When you first get edits, by all means scream, rant and chuck your toys out of the pram. Then, take a deep breath and a few days to consider why s/he wants you to make the changes. Make them work for you, or explain calmly and rationally, why they won’t. Most reasonable editors will come to a compromise. If you’ve signed away your IP rights, ignore the above. You really do have no say. If you can’t live with that, don’t sign any agreement that requires you relinquish the rights to your characters and the story.

3.  Show, don’t tell. Well, yes, but don’t go overboard. Sometimes a pithy summary is far more reader friendly than pages of acted-out drama. Narrative can also be a great way of showing the passage of time by slowing pace or adding variation.

4.  Never compare yourself with others. Easy to say: impossible to do. There will always be writers who sell more/win more awards/have more Twitter followers/are younger, cooler and cannier at using Instagram filters etc than you. The trick is to use others’ success to spur yourself on. Envy is a horrible emotion but it’s human. Learn from your own responses to others, analyse them for use in your work and be generous to your fellow writers. The vast majority are some of the most wonderful supportive people on the planet. The rest can be inspiration for your next villain!

5.  Write every day. If you can do, then great but if you’re like me, you’ll probably need ‘white space’ in your writing life. Take breaks when you need them, and over a career, you’ll probably need them a lot. You may be out of contract and have lost your confidence; you may simply be burnt out and exhausted. If you’ve suffered a major life trauma or bereavement, you may find you simply cannot physically sit at a laptop or have no idea why anyone ever writes. Be super kind to yourself and allow time to recharge your creative batteries.

And one not to break: Never Give Up

If genuine Writers’ Block strikes, and is a result of trauma or exhaustion, then focus all your energies on recovery and your health. Tell yourself you’re never going to write again if it eases your load and takes the pressure off. However, if you’re ‘merely’ full of self-doubt, then a change may be as good as a rest. Try a different tense/POV or a short story or novella or poetry. Lie to yourself and say you’re only writing for you, you’re never going to submit this project: it’s a piece of pure self-indulgent fun.

One morning, I promise, you’ll find you’re back on the horse and galloping along like Poldark.


Phillipa Ashley, writes romantic and women’s fiction for a variety of international publishers including Avon Harper Collins, Penguin and Headline.

After studying English at Oxford, she worked as a copywriter and journalist. Her first novel won the RNA New Writers Award and was made into a TV movie called ‘12 Men of Christmas’ starring Kristin Chenoweth and Josh Hopkins. As Pippa Croft, she also wrote the Oxford Blue series for Penguin Books.

Phillipa’s new book, Summer at the Cornish CafĂ©, will be published by @AvonBooks (Harper Collins) on May 5th – and is the first of a trilogy set in Cornwall.

Summer at the Cornish Cafe is available to pre-order here

50 comments:

  1. What very sensible advice. I find some of these so called rules extremely irritating and am pleased to hear a successful author feels much the same!

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  2. Yes, Linday. The only writing rules I adhere to are the ones I make myself.

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  3. What down to earth, brilliant advice. Great interview. Thank you both x

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    1. Down to earth advice is what we need sometimes, isn't it Sue.

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  4. Very helpful advice and useful to be able to give yourself permission to be a rebellion sometimes

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  5. All very good advice, I was nodding my head from beginning to end. Are we all rebels?

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  6. Good advice, especially don't be afraid to write about what you DON'T know. What I don't know,. I find out. That's what Google's for.

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    1. Most of what I write I know nothing about until I look it up.

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  7. A fabulous interview Wendy and Phillipa.

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  8. A fabulous interview Wendy and Phillipa.

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  9. Hello - I'm back from a White Space weekend away in the midst of a very long and busy period. Thanks for your generous responses because I was afraid I'd been a bit outspoken. Phew. :)

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    1. Not at all, Phillipa, and thank you for guesting on my blog.

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  10. What wonderful advice, Phillipa. Must remember your calming words when having a 'moment'! Thanks for sharing, Wendy. :-)

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    1. I think we should all remember them, Rae.

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  11. If I thought I could gallop away with Poldark count me in!

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  12. Wendy, is it Ok if I post a link here to the critique of 3 chapters plus synopsis I'm offering in aid of CLIC Sargent, which raises money for young people and children with cancer? The only bid is currently £9.99 and it would break my herat if it went for that. If anyone is an aspiring author, please bid at http://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/201528744941

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    1. Of course! Come on everyone, it's a great cause and a great chance to have your novel submissions critiqued.

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    2. Philippa, I have tweeted about your Ebay offer. Hope you get some more bids. Great cause.

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  13. Love these tips, Phillipa! The last two paragraphs are especially helpful. Thanks both :-)

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    1. I think 'Never compare yourself to others' is so important - but so hard!

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  15. Thanks, Anita, I've gone through these struggles myself (apart from the major life trauma, thank goodness, though we did have a bereavement last May) and I've had several periods, lasting many months, when I found it very hard to keep writing.

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  16. Thank you so much, Wendy and Phillipa. What helpful, sound advice. I can benefit massively from every one of these. Reading this post has started my writing week beautifully and I will be keeping all Phillipa's brilliant words of wisdom in mind. xxx

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    1. I'm going to try and remember them too, Joanna.

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  17. Fabulous post - I was nodding in agreement to all, and laughing out loud at your last sentence :-)

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  18. Thanks, everyone - I do think, as writers, we're prone to beating ourselves up - and anyone who knows me, will be rolling their eyes and saying 'yes, and you are the *worst*, Phillipa!' so I ought to take my own advice. :)

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  19. Very sensible advice. I found writing much easier when I realized I could turn all those 'rules' into guidelines. For a law-abiding person like me, bending a guideline doesn't seem quite as drastic as breaking a rule - although the result is the same!

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    1. I like the idea of 'bending a guideline'Linda. You're right - it doesn't sound as drastic.

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  20. Useful reminders there, Phillipa, thanks for sharing them.

    I do agree about the need to recharge the batteries, especially if you've had to deal with illness, or other difficulties life and family can throw in the way of getting on with writing. You always come back stronger, ready to carry on.

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    1. Recharging batteries is essential for any writer. I try and make time for that, Carol.

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  21. Enjoyed this post. When I'm stuck I unstick myself by writing something else; I always have a few stories on the go. But I am guilty of mostly writing 'what I know' (which isn't very much ... ) It's good advice to step away from that.

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    1. I do the same, Kate. I'll write a blog post or article. That way, I'm still writing but not stressing about the story I'm stuck on.

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  22. Hi Kate, my problem is I've run out of what I know (which wasn't much!) I do, always, choose a location familiar to me - I can't really imagine setting a whole novel in a place I've never been, I must admit. I need to know instinctively what the characters would see, hear, feel etc when they're in the landscape.

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  23. I break those rules - not the not giving up one though. But sometimes I follow them - I like to be unpredictable.

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    1. You unpredictable, Patsy? Surely not!

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  24. They wouldn't be 'rules' if no one ever followed them... there are good reasons for following them most of the time, but not slavishly. Being unpredictable is what helps to give us all our individual writing voices.

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  25. Rules are meant to be broken at times - obviously within legal boundaries :) But I agree and abide by the 'not giving up' rule and if I begin to waver there is always someone who will cajole me back on the right track. Great post! Thank you both!

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    1. Seems the 'never give up' rule is getting a big thumbs up, Nicola.

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  26. Love this and I agree with every single one, especially taking time out now and then! Thanks for sharing this, Phillipa (and Wendy).

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  27. Thanks, Rosemary, and everyone who commented here and elsewhere. I now feel better than it's not only me!

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