Hey, look at that! I finally got Sara Zarr on my blog! Let me introduce us: Tara Lazar, Sara Zarr. Sara Zarr, Tara Lazar. Woo-wee, that’s fun to say!

OK, enough fooling around. Let’s get serious. Well, maybe that’s not the right word. Let’s get mischievous. Because today we’re breaking rules!

breaktheserulescoverThe YA anthology BREAK THESE RULES explores the flip-side of those nit-picky little rules you’re supposed to follow when growing up. What would happen if you didn’t “grow up” and “be serious”? So what if you daydream, skip college or talk about religion? Must you really pick a side between jocks and geeks?

Well, 35 authors tell you to ignore “the rules”, just go ahead and break ’em. Because they did. And it didn’t kill them. Heck, they even came out on top. Check it out. (Even I’m in the book! I can’t believe they asked me. Maybe they knew I’m a scooter-ridin’ rebel.)

To celebrate BREAK THESE RULES, I thought it would be fun to learn what WRITING RULES some of the authors have broken. You know, we hear the rules all the time—rules about content, length and showing-not-telling. And in picture books: no rhyming, no art notes. We’re bombarded by rules at conferences, in craft books and even on this blog! (Yeah, sorry ’bout that.)

So today we’ll hear from Wendy Mass, Josh Berk, and of course, that author with the awesome name, Sara Zarr!


wendymassWendy Mass

When I talk to kids at schools about writing, I always tell them to be sure to keep their eyes and ears open when they’re out in the world and to closely observe what’s going on around them. The thing is, when I am out in the world, say at a busy shopping mall, the people around me may as well have three eyes and two heads for all I notice them. I never study people, I never notice what they wear, how they move, how their voice sounds, all those things you are supposed to do when you are trying to create believable characters. It all just makes me uncomfortable. That said, I do get inspired by things I see in the world, or hear, or read, just not people. So there you have it, my dirty little secret. On the positive side, if we cross paths you’ll never have to worry if you have spinach in your teeth because I’ll never notice .



I quite possibly owe my entire writing career to the fact that some years ago I decided to break the first rule of writing: write what you know. I had a crazy idea to write a YA mystery novel about a deaf teen solving a murder. I knew nothing about writing mysteries and less about being deaf. But I was curious. And so I learned.

You can write about anything—or anyone—you care to. Curiosity and empathy are your greatest tools as a writer, not the limited scope of your own experience.


sarazarrSara Zarr

The rule I break most often is “write a crappy first draft.” I work much better if I revise as I go. Which isn’t to say that my first drafts aren’t crappy. Because they are. As are my second and third, I’m pretty sure. But what I try to avoid is blindly thrashing through and pushing ahead no matter what, just to get the words in. For one thing, I don’t want to write myself into a corner or dead end and then have to throw out all the pages that got me there. For another thing, I get this unpleasant feeling of anxiety if I write forward knowing there are big problems behind me. If I feel my idea of a character changing as I write, I want to go back and at least patch up the previous version of that character before I get too much further. It’s like knowing I left my wallet at the restaurant or something. I have to go back. There’s always more revision to do, but I try to keep the crappy to a minimum along the way.


Thanks, daring edict-evaders!

So get out there and start breaking rules. Be different. But most importantly, be WHO YOU ARE. (I’m Tara Lazar, not Sara Zarr. But maybe we could switch for a day?)

What writing rule have you broken?

Leave a comment to be entered to win a copy of BREAK THESE RULES, available now from Chicago Review Press.