Rules for Writing?

First rule about writing, there are no rules.

Second rule about writing, there are no rules.

My apologies to Chuck Palahniuk but I just ran across Jonathan Franzen’s 10 Rules for Writing.

As a list-maker myself, I am all for writing rules but really, I’ve read dozens of “rules” for writing and can’t say any of them have directly improved my writing.

I love writing “tips” – hearing about other writers’ processes such as writing first thing in the morning, by longhand first, etc.

Today I read a “tip” from my friend Jesse Loesberg that I thought worth sharing. It was in an introduction to a short story he wrote:

I used to have a really steady writing schedule: two hours a day, five days a week, with weekends off. I have two-year old twins now, so I write whenever I can fit it in. For this reason, the best tip I have for other writers is to ignore anyone who says you need to write every day. It’s great if you can, but that’s too high a bar to clear for most of us, and if you think that writing every day is the only way to get any “real” writing done, you’ll never do it.

(Read the story and intro here.)

Jesse breaks the “write every day” rule as do I. As do so many other writers because it doesn’t work for them.

The other “rule” that irks me, and is repeated ad naseum to new writers, is to “write what you know.” So how are there so many stories about vampires and life after death?

I am compelled to write what I feel. That’s not a rule. It’s just what I do.

Franzen’s rule #2 is great:

Fiction that isn’t an author’s personal adventure into the frightening or the unknown isn’t worth writing for anything but money.

This is more advice than rule from a writer who is genuinely adventurous and delves whole-heartedly into the frightening and unknown.

My only advice for writers is this: do whatever it takes to write.

This will involve sacrifice and often heartache and heartburn, but if you are serious about writing, you must do whatever it takes for you to sit down and write.

2 thoughts on “Rules for Writing?

  1. I always figured write what you know meant write what emotions you know. The situations change, but the responses remain you.
    I do think putting ass in chair is a big part of writing. And surfing, unfortunately.

  2. In the books I read as a newbie writer, I understood it to be write the subjects you know. Which of course, to your point, is the same as the emotions you know. My subjects/emotions are angst, isolation, identity…

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