I have noticed (and you probably have too) that there are a million “writing rule” lists from authors floating around the web. From Jonathan Franzen’s harsh but probably true writing rules, to Margret Atwood’s witty and frank list (both found in this article from the Guardian), I have come across more writing tip/rule lists that I can count. Here’s the thing though: no matter how many lists I read, I can’t get enough of them.
I think the simplicity of writing rules is what makes them so appealing to me; when you read a list of rules, you might think, just for a moment, that creating good writing could be as simple as following these rules. Of course, we all know this isn’t true – good writing comes from hard work and a heck of a lot of writing (10,000 hours of writing, to be exact). But there’s still something alluring to me about learning what works for other successful writers, because there’s always a chance it might work for me too.
Although every list of writing rules I’ve come across has been slightly different, I’ve noticed that several rules show up more frequently than others. Here are 5 rules I see quite regularly (written in my own words):
1. Read anything and everything you can get your hands on.
2. Write everyday (in the morning if you can).
3. Don’t worry if your first draft sucks.
4. Read your work out loud to yourself.
I think the most important thing to remember when perusing writing rules is that not every rule will work for you (nor should it). I’ve adopted a single rule for reading rule lists. (That’s right, a rule for reading rules. What can I say, I like writing rules!)
My rule for reading writing rules is (drum roll please): Take what works for you and leave the rest.
I remember the first time I read Jonathan Franzen’s rule #8: “It’s doubtful that anyone with an internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction.” Ouch. I’ve decided that rule is just not for me (although I have been much more conscious about interrupting my writing for Google searches since reading that). Even though this rule doesn’t resonate for me, I have found value in several of Jonathan’s other rules.
Here a few of my favourite writing rule lists from around the interweb. Take what you like and leave the rest!
1. Ten Rules for Writing Fiction from the Guardian: Perhaps the most comprehensive list I’ve found, the Guardian’s Ten Rules for Writing Fiction has tips from 30 fiction authors, including Margaret Atwood, Jonathan Franzen, Joyce Carol Oates, Roddy Doyle and Neil Gaiman.
2. Ernest Hemingway’s Top 5 Tips for Writing Well from CopyBlogger: I’ve been on a Hemingway kick since I read The Paris Wife by Paula McLain. These tips are reminiscent of Hemingway’s writing: clear and concise.
3. Writing Tips from Successful Authors: This Squidoo article includes writing tips from Kurt Vonnegut, Jack Kerouac, Ian Rankin and George Orwell.
Do you read writing rule lists from authors? Are there any other rules you see time and time again? What’s your favourite writing rule?