Writing Rules!

Elmore Leonard

Photo by mtkr — Creative Commons License Some Rights Reserved

If only creating art was as simple as following a few rules.

Elmore Leonard has tried to make writing simple in his 10 Rules of Writing. (For example, “Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip”; and, “Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said” . . . he admonished gravely. To use an adverb this way (or almost any way) is a mortal sin.”)

Art is usually about breaking rules. Still, you need to know what rules you are breaking. Moreover, there is comfort in knowing that current and past masters have left trails to their success.

Following on Leonard, The Guardian has expanded the list of those ready to jump into the inspiration/admonishment pool. For your work, or at least your reading encouragement, here’s a brief selection from their sampled writers:

Margaret Atwood:
You most likely need a thesaurus, a rudimentary grammar book, and a grip on reality. This latter means: there’s no free lunch. Writing is work. It’s also gambling. You don’t get a pension plan. Other people can help you a bit, but essentially you’re on your own. Nobody is making you do this: you chose it, so don’t whine.

Roddy Doyle:
Do not place a photograph of your favourite author on your desk, especially if the author is one of the famous ones who committed suicide.

Anne Enright:
Only bad writers think that their work is really good.

Richard Ford:
Marry somebody you love and who thinks you being a writer’s a good idea.

Jonathan Franzen:
The reader is a friend, not an adversary, not a spectator.

David Hare:
Never complain of being misunderstood. You can choose to be understood, or you can choose not to.

P.D. James:
Read widely and with discrimination. Bad writing is contagious.

And, from our collective past masters, words to live by:

Anaïs Nin:
The role of a writer is not to say what we all can say, but what we are unable to say. 

Anton Chekhov:
Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.

G.K. Chesterton:
A good novel tells us the truth about its hero; but a bad novel tells us the truth about its author.

Nathaniel Hawthorne:
Easy reading is damn hard writing. 

Jack London:
You can’t wait for inspiration, you have to go after it with a club.

Vladimir Nabokov:
The pages are still blank, but there is a miraculous feeling of the words being there, written in invisible ink and clamoring to become visible.

Sylvia Plath:
And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise.  The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt. 

Isaac Bashevis Singer:
The wastebasket is a writer’s best friend. 

Mark Twain:
Substitute “damn” every time you’re inclined to write “very;” your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be. 

And, for the perfect Catch-22 on the art and technique of writing:
Every writer I know has trouble writing. Joseph Heller

- Bill Reichblum

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One Response to “Writing Rules!”

  1. Kelly
    February 22nd, 2010 21:50

    I just loved this article from The Guardian! So much great advice.

    Plus, it inspired me to post my own writing rules on my blog. :)

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