The only writing rule? There are no rules!

I was chatting with a new acquaintance about my new, more flexible, schedule, and how it will give me the time I need to finish my book. I think I mentioned to him that the first half of the day is for the book, the second half for the paying gigs. I may have mentioned that I still plan to have coffee and read the Boston Globe before anything else, as I have nearly every morning for the past four decades.

New Acquaintance, however, insisted that the only way I can be a succesful writer is if I write immediately upon getting up in the morning, before I even have coffee or breakfast, or read the paper, or anything else.

The fact I’ve written three traditionally published mystery novels had no impact on his insistance that I COULD NOT WRITE A BOOK if I didn’t do it first thing in the morning, immediately upon getting up, before I have coffee, breakfast or newspaper. Otherwise, he said, I’d get caught up in doing other things and would never get around to writing.

The fact that I’ve never ever written in the morning before having coffee and newspaper, as well as often doing other things, and have still managed to write three books that have not only been published, but also fairly well-received, didn’t deter him. He kept insisting.

The fact that I know many many succesful fiction writers, and they write at all sorts of times of day, also didn’t deter him.

Did I mention he hasn’t, to my knowledge, written a novel? Apparently he read somewhere that’s the “only way” Stephen King and Ernest Hemingway were able to write. He also, if I remember the conversation correctly, claims King even advocates for this writing process in his book “On Writing.”

Memo to aspiring writers: Anyone who tells you a writer “has to” do it a certain way, or at a certain time of day, or for a certain amount of time or anything else like that is simply wrong. The time of day you should write is whatever time of day that works best for you. I have never discussed this, or anything else, with Stephen King, but I’ll bet a year’s worth of morning coffee he’d agree with me.

In fact, if you’re looking for writing advice, the best I’ve ever found is my one big takeaway from Stephen King’s “On Writing”: Just sit down and write.

You’re welcome.

About Maureen Milliken

Maureen Milliken is the author of the Bernie O’Dea mystery series. Follow her on Twitter at @mmilliken47 and like her Facebook page at Maureen Milliken mysteries. Sign up for email updates at She hosts the podcast Crime&Stuff with her sister Rebecca Milliken.
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7 Responses to The only writing rule? There are no rules!

  1. maggierobinsonwriter says:

    We don’t need no stinkin’ rules. And personally, I’m using as many adverbs as I can squeeze in, LOL. Everyone’s process and productivity are different. I used to get up at 5 AM and write before work. Now I’m lucky if I’m alert enough by noon. You do you!

  2. We could do endless columns about the worst writing advice ever, couldn’t we. One of mine is the person who insisted that if you write something that makes you cry when you write it, take it out. I’ve had scenes in my book that made me cry through five or six revisions and I figure it if works and keeps working, why would I want to cut it?


  3. Well said, Maureen. And Kate, I had a writing instructor who is a well-published author say in a class that if your writing makes you and/or your reader cry, then you are on the right track. Your audience has to be emotionally invested in your story.

  4. sandra gardner says:

    Hi Maureen, always been a night person (vampire?) — almost impossible for me to do anything involving thinking in the morning. glad to hear you’re working on a new book — does it involve some of the same characters/setting in your three previous? I signed up for crime bake — hope to see you there. sandy gardner

  5. kaitlynkathy says:

    I agree completely and I’ll add to the mix the newly published mystery writer who buttonholed me at Malice Domestic one year to tell me that I Had To badger every bookseller I encountered into giving me a signing. Ah—no. This does not create good feelings with booksellers. That this woman has gone on to have a successful career and even win awards does not mean I’ll ever accept that there’s only one right way to do things!

  6. Amber Foxx says:

    I write at night. I’ve written seven books at night. If I tried to write before coffee or breakfast, or exercise, or clearing out my to-do list for the day, I wouldn’t get anything done.

  7. Hey, Maureen. Yes, I totally agree. Our job is to figure out how it works for us. We’re all different and our writing processes are different. Thanks for a good post. I’m sharing.

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