Posted On December 1, 2014 by Print This Post

Always and Never – Two words that NEVER apply to writers by Holly Jacobs

I’ve never met Holly Jacobs in person, but I see her on Facebook nearly every day. I’m totally in awe of her writing chops – her books have sold over 2.5 million copies worldwide. If you search her name on Amazon, you’ll find EIGHT PAGES of titles (some are foreign language editions).

I’ve always enjoyed Holly’s writing but it seems to me she’s reached a whole new level with her recent book, JUST ONE THING. It landed firmly on my keeper shelf, and I plan on getting more copies for my friends. Please give Holly a warm welcome back to RU – she last visited when we celebrated category romance.


Years ago, I went to a conference and met a new writer who was making her first editor pitch.  She had written herself notes on index cards because she was so nervous and didn’t want to go blank mid-meeting.  She was practically in tears when I met her, not because of those nerves, but because she’d just come from a workshop on pitching where the speaker had assured the participants that using crib-notes is NEVER done and that the editors will ALWAYS dismiss the idea out of hand.


I told her what I’m going to tell you…if you attend a workshop where the speaker tosses around the words ALWAYS and NEVER as if she’s tossing a volleyball around on a beach…leave.

There’s no such thing as ALWAYS and NEVER in writing.  There’s no such thing as an absolute in writing.

Now, in real life, you might make a case for the words.  I mean, burying the body in the backyard is really never called for.  J  But in writing, burying a body in the backyard can be perfectly acceptable…especially if you’re a mystery writer.

So let’s talk about why I’m antiALWAYS and antiNEVER.

I think every writer has heard some of the ‘rules’ of writing.  I write romance and one of the big rules I’ve heard over and over again is, never write a sports hero.  Now as a rather antisporty person, I’ll confess, you’d think I’d have a bias against sports heroes.  But I am an absolute sucker for a good sports movie.  Rudy, anyone?  Or The Blind Side?  Still, I wasn’t sure how I felt about sports heroes…then I read Susan Elizabeth Phillips.  I was sold.  She didn’t just break that ‘rule’ she shattered it.  She tells unique stories with unique characters…who feel very real.  Her characters are people you could imagine as friends—whether you enjoy sports or not.

Still, I don’t know that being different for difference sake is a good idea, but I do think that honoring your story is.  Just because something’s different doesn’t mean that readers won’t connect.  I wrote a book that was just for me.  It wasn’t exactly a romance.  It wasn’t exactly women’s fiction.  It wasn’t an inspirational, though I mentioned God.  And the characters weren’t alcoholics, but most of the book was set in a bar.  It was a short book and it had flashbacks. Editors tend to get itchy about books they can’t pigeonhole.  But I wrote the book exactly the way I wanted in between other contracts.  And I was fortunate enough to find an editor who fell in love with it as well, despite the fact it didn’t fit in a specific niche.  And that book, Just One Thing, became one of my bestselling books ever.


I guess that’s what I’m saying.  Don’t be different for difference sake, but honor your story.  If it needs a sports hero, or a bar.  If you have flashbacks.  If it’s too short or too long.  Tell the story.

When asked for advice for a new writer, I say, write something, anything, every day.  Even if it’s crap.  You can fix crap but you can’t fix an empty page…other than by writing!  But I don’t use the words ALWAYS or NEVER because some people can’t write that every-day way.  I still think it’s sound advice, but it’s not an absolute.

Some people are never going to be daily writers.  Some are never going to be prolific.  And that’s okay.  Just as you have to find what works for you in your story, you also need to find what works for you as a writer.

I am a morning person.  I get up, walk early and then I write.  I love writing mornings.  I love finishing my must-do work and having time to do other things, or time to do more writing if I’m inclined.  I love it.  It works for me.  But I have friends who avoid mornings like the plague.  They’re best writing time is evenings.  Or weekends.  Or on that summer retreat once a year.

I guess what I’m saying is, find what works for you.  Honor it.  Own it.  Keep doing it.  And if it stops working for you, try something else.

Writers write.

Writers always write.

Well, darn.  So that’s an absolute.  Writers ALWAYS write.  Yep, I definitely broke my own rule.  So maybe I lied and this whole blog was wrong.

Nope, maybe not.  I mean, I think I made the point that you never say never when it comes to writing…so maybe it’s okay that I’ve got one absolute.


So let’s recap:

Honor your story.

Find what works for you and do it.

If it no longer works for you, do something else.



Yes, I think that about sums it up.


I try to start every workshop I give by saying, “Take what works for you and run with it.  Ignore the rest.”  I’m saying that now at the end of this blog.  I hope you found something that made sense to you and to your writing.




So what’s one ALWAYS or NEVER that you’ve been told or heard.  Did you listen to the advice, or ignore it?

On Wednesday, stop in to meet P.J. Schnyder, aka author  Piper J. Drake.




Holly Jacobs is a bestselling, award-winning author who writes for Montlake Romance and Harlequin SuperRomance.  Her 2014 releases were Just One Thing and Christmas in Cupid Falls.  She’s also indie published her first comedic mystery series, Maid in LA Mysteries.


You can visit Holly at:







Kennedy Anderson loves Cupid Falls, Pennsylvania. Ever since moving there as an orphaned teenager, she’s worked hard to carve out a place for herself in the tight-knit community. Now she’s mayor and owner of the town’s flower shop. But she also has a big secret…and nine months to figure out how to break the news to the father.


Lawyer Malcolm Carter has always been the golden boy of Cupid Falls—until he discovers the one night he spent with the girl-next-door turned out to have a lifetime of consequences. Now, the mother of his child wants nothing to do with him, and he’s gone from someone who is admired to persona non grata as the town rallies behind its mayor.


Malcom has always known what he wants. But now as Christmas approaches, he’ll have to discover a way to show Kennedy that she could find the only thing she’s ever really wanted—a true home—with him. Convincing her will take the help of Cupid Falls’ quirky residents…and a bit of holiday magic.


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13 Responses to “Always and Never – Two words that NEVER apply to writers by Holly Jacobs”

  1. Hi Holly – Thank you so much for this fabulous post! When I first tried my hand at fiction I was worried because there seemed to be so many rules, and a lot of them started with “always” and “never”. I’m still finding my way as a writer, but I’m not quite so hidebound when it comes to following the rules. Oddly (at least, it seems odd to me), the problem I’ve had recently is the one I NEVER had problems with because I was ALWAYS writing. Lately I’ve kind of run out of gas – certainly not due to lack of inspiration or a desire to write, just a sort of inertia. After years of writing full lilt it feels odd not to be writing. My friends say, “Just WRITE!” Your comment “You can fix crap but you can’t fix an empty page…” really resonates with me. I get frustrated with myself when I can’t get a story right, but I can do crap – no problem! 😉

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | December 1, 2014, 10:33 am
    • Becke,

      I think inertia is so hard, so I’m sending hugs. Most of my friends know I’m a bit of a science geek (heavy on the geek who simply likes science) and that whole and object in motion thing can really resonate for writers. When I’m in a time crunch because of a tight deadline, I seem to cram it all in. Somehow I make it work. This last book was a super tight deadline and I found myself waking up in the middle of the night with whole scenes.

      So maybe setting a goal…something realistic but something that will give you a push and free up the inertia would help. Maybe not worrying if it’s great, but rather simply telling the story. Fix it later if you need to, but tell it.

      Of course, a good kick in the butt can sometimes help an inert object start rolling again. My kids say I’m good at kicking butts. Okay, that’s a lie. My kids laugh at me when I try to be fierce. But let’s pretend I am and I’ll offer you a cyber-kick! 🙂

      And thanks…I’m glad the ALWAYS and NEVER thing made sense. I’ve been doing this for a few years now, and the one true constant is there is no absolute when it comes to writing…or life for that matter!


      Posted by Holly Jacobs | December 1, 2014, 1:22 pm
  2. Hi Holly!

    When I first started writing there were so many Always/Nevers that I’d panic a bit when writing. Then I would write a page or two, then go through and apply the Always/Nevers, fix them and repeat repeat repeat. Ugh.

    Now I fly through the first draft, then start to apply some of the “rules”…sometimes they work, and sometimes they don’t…but I’m no longer a slave to every single one!

    Thanks for a great post!


    Posted by Carrie Spencer | December 1, 2014, 7:28 pm
    • Carrie, I’m glad it made sense to you! I think that reminding ourselves that they’re no RIGHT way of doing things, there’s just our WRITE way is important. I’ve been telling stories that are a bit different and have to remind myself on occasion!

      Posted by Holly Jacobs | December 2, 2014, 5:22 am
  3. Holly – I used to drive my husband nuts by staying up all night writing. If first drafts – or even second or third drafts – counted, I’d have a lot of books completed by now. What I really need to do is buckle down and do some rewrites, but that’s so much harder than starting something new. I’m not afraid of hard work, I just wish I could pull all those loose ends together and really finish something. I sometimes wonder if that will ever happen. Ah well…never say never!

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | December 1, 2014, 11:07 pm
    • Becke, Definitely NEVER say NEVER! And NEVER say ALWAYS either, though that doesn’t sound as good as the first! LOL

      I hope you get there. There’s so much about writing that’s scary. I think we put ourselves in all our work…I know I do. Wether I’m writing a very serious romantic drama or a lighthearted comedic romance, I’m in there. I’ve started talking about my ‘Easter Eggs’ in each book…very blatant bits of me. But there are so many other subtle pieces.

      I think those pieces are what makes our stories feel real…I think they’re also the parts that make putting the story out there scary! But facing our fears on a daily basis is a very real part of writing! Remember that as you start those rewrites!

      Posted by Holly Jacobs | December 2, 2014, 5:26 am
  4. Thanks for this thought-provoking post, Holly.

    With all the books you’ve had published, I’d say you are an expert. What is the hardest thing about writing for you now? Is each book equally hard or does the writing and plotting get easier over time?

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | December 1, 2014, 11:09 pm
    • Becke,

      The hardest part?? It’s probably what it’s always been…time. I have a big family and even though the kids are older, they still need me. In different ways than when they were little, but it’s still there. And we have older members of the family who need me. I’ve always said family first…and I try to live by that. But I have so many stories I want to tell. So writing is second. Finding the time I need to write, finding the balance I need in my life…that’s still the hardest part. Some days I do it better than others.

      Posted by Holly Jacobs | December 2, 2014, 5:29 am
  5. Hi Holly,

    Your post made me grin. When I first started writing, I would read books where the author defied the ‘rules’ and I’d wonder how they got away with it. I’d take workshops with instructors who had their own opinions on how to write. This added to my confusion. Use of a prologue, flashbacks, and limiting backstory are rules I usually ignore.

    Thanks for joining us today!

    Posted by Jennifer Tanner | December 2, 2014, 12:50 am
    • Jennifer, I’m glad my post made sense.

      I want to be clear, breaking ‘rules’ to break them isn’t what I mean. I know someone who was judging a contest and got an entry that was pages of one paragraph. Seriously, paragraphs are generally a good rule! But maybe sometimes longer or shorter ones work for a story.

      Rules were meant to be broken…but only when it makes sense for a story! LOL

      And paragraphs are a good thing! LOL

      Posted by Holly Jacobs | December 2, 2014, 5:32 am
  6. Holly – My writing has slacked off drastically since I started babysitting for my granddaughter. I wouldn’t trade my time with her for anything, but it has put me in awe of authors who manage to raise kids and take care of extended families and still meet their deadlines!

    I used to enter contests a lot – when I first attempted fiction, it was the only way I knew of to get feedback. (Later I joined my local RWA chapter – a total game-changer!) Since then I’ve judged many contests, and I’ve learned a lot from those experiences. It’s such a thrill to read an entry that leaps off the page. And it’s one thing to KNOW I should be showing, not telling, but it was much easier to understand that advice when I saw how it bogged down otherwise exciting entries. Okay, I’ll admit it – Show, don’t tell is a rule I ALWAYS try to follow. I don’t ALWAYS succeed, unfortunately. I’m still learning!

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | December 2, 2014, 1:17 pm
    • Becke, Like I said, Family First is a rule I do try to follow! Congrats on the grand daughter! Sounds like a delightful time!

      And Show don’t Tell is a good one to pay attention to, but sometimes some telling is good. Just One Thing was in first person, and I think there was more telling in that than most, but like I said, I honored the story and I think it worked.

      Posted by Holly Jacobs | December 2, 2014, 1:23 pm


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