The Craft: Rules for Writing

[This is part of a continuing series on the art of writing fiction.]

[SPOILER ALERT: This post contains spoilers for the Chekhov story, “Lady with the Lap Dog.” ]

I’ve been hesitating on writing this post for a while. I think two things were holding me back.

What Would Ray Say?

First, I guess I didn’t want to give away the farm. All that hard work, writing, thinking, finally coming up with these rules…And then just letting them go out into the world. But part of the idea of this blog is to share and make other writers out there better.

There was something else, something bigger, gnawing at me.

I think it’s just that it’s awfully damn pretentious for a writer who has only self-published two pieces to offer anyone rules for writing. Stephen King, Ray Bradbury, sure. But me? Come on!

So, I thought I might post these as “Writing Suggestions” or “Ideas that Worked for Me,” but that would have been lame and possibly even more pretentious. And they are my rules for writing in the sense that they work for me. So in the end, I’ve decided to share them under the original title. Let me explain.

Posting these rules and writing this blog has been a great learning process for me. It’s forced me to think about what makes my writing good and where it falls short. In posting these “rules” I hope to clarify my own thinking and learn more about the writing process myself. I might even add some new rules as we go. Along the way, I hope you readers and writers also find them useful.

So, here’s what I’m going to do.

Today, I’m posting rules 1 through 5. I will expand the list in this post over time, so you may want to bookmark this page. Each new “Rule for Writing” will link to a new post where I discuss that rule at length. I will start with a post next week on Rule 1.

My top writing rules are:

1. Get Black on White.


3. The Elvis Principle.

4. Dedicated Time.

5. Stick to What Works.

More rules to be POSTED HERE.

I want to end this post with one BIG exception: Rules are made for breaking. As Prince said: “Make the rules and break them all cause you are the best.”

Prince makes it hard to find his videos. But look for “Cream” and you’ll see what I meant to link to.

But seriously, sometimes this can be used to great effect. Take the biggest writing rule of all time: “Show, Don’t Tell.” It’s a great, simple rule, though everybody seems to have a different interpretation of what it means. And whether it’s the right thing to do in the first place. But here’s an example of a great writer, Chekhov, in one of his best stories, suddenly “telling” it all instead of “showing.” It comes at the end of “Lady with the Dog.”

He had two lives: one, open, seen and known by all who cared to know, full of relative truth and of relative falsehood, exactly like the lives of his friends and acquaintances; and another life running its course in secret. And through some strange, perhaps accidental, conjunction of circumstances, everything that was essential, of interest and of value to him, everything in which he was sincere and did not deceive himself, everything that made the kernel of his life, was hidden from other people; and all that was false in him, the sheath in which he hid himself to conceal the truth—such, for instance, as his work in the bank, his discussions at the club, his ‘lower race,’ his presence with his wife at anniversary festivities—all that was open.

It’s had a sublime effect on me when I first read it and it comes at just the right moment. But it’s all “tell.” Every last bit of it. It seems that, in art, all rules are made for breaking.

That being said, if you’re just starting out, stick to the rules.

In a continuing sub-series, I’m mentioning each time viewers from a new country visit the blog. This week we have:

– Serbia.

Welcome to the blog!

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