What Are Your Writing Rules?

It’s such a fraught topic, writing rules. Some writers are adamantly against them, feeling that establishing such guidelines is unnecessarily restrictive. Others clasp their writing rules to their chests as if they’ve been stipulated by a burning bush; they need those sideboards to give structure to their writing practice.

My writing rules tend to boil down to two: 1) write as much as you can, and 2) finish what you begin. But I love reading other writers’ rules. Most of the time, I’m nodding away agreeing with the rest of the choir.

Maria Popova’s wonderful website BrainPickings has many fine postings about writing rules. One set were so compelling to me that I wrote them in my notebook and refer to them from time to time. Maybe they’ll be useful for you as well. They are crafted by the award-winning author Zadie Smith:

  1. When still a child, make sure you read a lot of books. Spend more time doing this than anything else.
  2. When an adult, try to read your own work as a stranger would read it, or even better, as an enemy would.
  3. Don’t romanticise your ‘vocation’. You can either write good sentences or you can’t. There is no ‘writer’s lifestyle’. All that matters is what you leave on the page.
  4. Avoid your weaknesses. But do this without telling yourself that the things you can’t do aren’t worth doing. Don’t mask self-doubt with contempt.
  5. Leave a decent space of time between writing something and editing it.
  6. Avoid cliques, gangs, groups. The presence of a crowd won’t make your writing any better than it is.
  7. Work on a computer that is disconnected from the internet.
  8. Protect the time and space in which you write. Keep everybody away from it, even the people who are most important to you.
  9. Don’t confuse honours with achievement.
  10. Tell the truth through whichever veil comes to hand—but tell it. Resign yourself to the lifelong sadness that comes from never being satisfied.

Don’t forget the get something down on the page this week.

take care,

3 thoughts on “What Are Your Writing Rules?”

  1. This is a great list–very helpful! I have noticed that my writing rules have changed as I have grown as a writer. As I gain more experience, my attitude toward writing alters, but in the very best way. For example, a rule that I have been living by is to take risks. Be daring. Be bold. I recently wrote a poem with the topic concerning a reverse role of "Jack and the Beanstalk." The giants are afraid of the humans. It was a daring move, but well-received by my colleagues. You never know what you will write, so take a chance. While I have many other rules, the one I described is my leading rule right now in my writing.

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