Notes from An Alien

~ Explorations In Writing { and reading and publishing } ~

More On The “Rules” of Writing . . .

Rules for creative writing?

Some folks have a large laundry list, some claim none

In the post Rules for Writers Are Slippery and Shifty . . . I said:

“…if the ‘rules’ for writing are impossible to nail down, the inner-self-factor that creates what’s written is completely incapable of being precisely described—hence the reversion to metaphysics, poetics, and figurative depiction—’Muse’, et al.”

That post also has some cool quotes from authors.

By the way, quotes from writers, usually taken out of context, are often presented as “rules”.

I’m going to quote some “rules” from author Colson Whitehead but first I’ll show you what a young writer said about them.

From the Sunday Book Review in The New York Times comes this:

“To the Editor:

“Thank you for Colson Whitehead’s essay “How to Write” (July 29). Reading it, I felt like a child again (although officially, I am just a year past childhood and, unofficially, I will probably be a child for at least another 10 years). I was raised on books and by their authors. The embrace of the written word comforted and guided and gave me strength. As I got older, I realized that I wanted to write — but that becoming a writer is hard. And my security turned to fear and my admiration to jealousy.”

There’s more, but the excerpt shows me this youngster is in the thick of learning some of the oldest “rules” of writing: writing is rewriting—write through the fear, write till you bleed on the page

So, what are the “rules” this letter to the editor extols?

You’ll find them in the article How to Write but here I’ll only list the titles:

Rule No. 1: Show and Tell.

Rule No. 2: Don’t go searching for a subject, let your subject find you.

Rule No. 3: Write what you know.

Rule No. 4: Never use three words when one will do.

Rule No. 5: Keep a dream diary.

Rule No. 6: What isn’t said is as important as what is said.

Rule No. 7: Writer’s block is a tool — use it.

Rule No. 8: Is secret.

Rule No. 9: Have adventures.

Rule No. 10: Revise, revise, revise.

Rule No. 11: There are no rules.

What are some of your favorite “Rules” of Writing?
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4 responses to “More On The “Rules” of Writing . . .

  1. lynnbiederstadt August 14, 2012 at 1:37 pm

    AZ, I love this post (okay, okay, I love all of them)…except for non-rule 4. I have a fondness for triplets: I loved the rhythm of them, the roundness of the description they build. The well chosen trio is like a felicitous motif in music, sung until the head gets it.


  2. Alexander M Zoltai August 14, 2012 at 1:43 pm

    Well, Lynn, since the non-rule says, never use three when one will do, your triplets must be better usage than single words, eh??


  3. martinaseveckepohlen August 15, 2012 at 4:15 am

    This list of rules reminds me of a worksheet that has been part of “how to learn learning” courses for decades. I came across it in my schooldays, my daughter got almost exactly the same one last term. At the head of the page the student is asked to read through the whole sheet, then work on several tasks. The last task is to do none of the tasks above. When you see other students work on the forbidden tasks, you must be strong enough to do what is asked in the last task – nothing. So if there are no rules, not even recommendations, what is there for aspiring writers? I think it’s the realization that in writing rules can be tried and discarded if they don’t agree with what you want to achieve.


  4. Alexander M Zoltai August 15, 2012 at 9:20 am

    I must repeat what you said, Martina:

    “So if there are no rules, not even recommendations, what is there for aspiring writers? I think it’s the realization that in writing rules can be tried and discarded if they don’t agree with what you want to achieve.”


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