samuel x. brase likes to write

Rules on Rules

Posted in novel planning by Sam X. on 25 February 2010

I’m not sure if it’s our day and age, or what, but rules about writing have sprouted up everywhere, like springtime for Steinbeck. The Salon article that broke my silence on this issue addresses the fact that “writers have been advising other writers since at least as far back as Aristotle,” so it must be with the Internet that we decided to parse things down into neat lists of numerical rules.

I read half of the Guardian’s list of authorial rules and felt sick. Many of the rules are very good ones, and honestly I could do well to take them to heart. Some of them I already swear by–every day I see an adverb that I’d like to strike down–but some of them make me cringe. Especially (sorry about that) because half the lists have, as their rule #10, a disclaimer that rules are made to be broken and that one shouldn’t follow them over a cliff.

Perhaps this is my personality. My girlfriend can attest to the fact that I dislike writing rules; my mentor in college, if I may call her such, received her fair share of stories that just skirted within an assignment’s boundaries. A certain story about talking rabbits comes to mind.

Incidentally, her Tuesday post is a list of rules–and she was inspired by yet another list of rules. Ideas on the Internet, they proliferate. Like rabbits. Procreate. Whatever. Her rules are funny, and I appreciate that. “13. Write what you know, especially you white people out there.” Ah, yes. I can relax a little.

At this point, if I aggregated all the rules I thought useful or interesting, I’d probably have upward of 20 things I need to keep track of while I write. But a lot of these rules are for children. Read? Write? If you’re not doing those things,  you’re not a writer. Why do we even concern ourselves with that?

Rules are–rules are ridiculous. They contradict themselves. One tells us to write every day, the other tells us not to force it. It’s a cacophony of guidelines, and the guidelines are going in their own directions; anyone who followed all of these rules would find themselves suffocated.

I say the hell with lists. I’m tired of them, they’re making me neurotic, and I’m already neurotic enough. One rule is all I need, and it’s from Neil Gaiman. The rest of it can shove off.

The main rule of writing is that if you do it with enough assurance and confidence, you’re allowed to do whatever you like. (That may be a rule for life as well as for writing. But it’s definitely true for writing.) So write your story as it needs to be written. Write it ­honestly, and tell it as best you can. I’m not sure that there are any other rules. Not ones that matter.


4 Responses

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  1. Laura Ellen Scott said, on 25 February 2010 at 10:52 pm

    excellent rant. beautiful even.

  2. ktvo said, on 25 February 2010 at 11:10 pm

    glad you enjoyed it. I felt like I was going crazy.

  3. EeLeen Lee said, on 28 February 2010 at 6:57 pm

    thats why the sudden mushrooming of the ‘How to Write’ industry
    Every writer offers their 2/10 cents, even me, but the key word is ‘offer’. Advice- take it or don’t take it.

    But I follow what Mr. Gaiman says too.

  4. cheyanneyoung said, on 9 March 2010 at 7:19 pm

    Great post. I don’t take to heart any advice about reading.. At the end of the day, all i need is a spell checker.

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