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There are no rules, only habits

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The Guardian today has a massive list of rules for writing, by various writers.

  • Some of the rules are stupid (Annie Proulx: ‘Write slowly and by hand…’)
  • Some of the rules scream ‘look-at-me-I’m-special-I’m-a-Writer’ (Richard Ford: ‘Don’t have children.’ It never stopped Dickens. Or Shakespeare come to that.)
  • Some of the rules are pseud’s corner material: (Helen Dunmore: ‘Read Keats’s letters’)
  • A few of them are painfully true (Anne Enright: ‘The first 12 years are the worst.’)
  • And some are excellent (Neil Gaiman: ‘Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.’)

Most of them, truth be told, are functionally useless, because writing isn’t the kind of activity that works like that. It’s not the kind of activity where, if you obey all the rules, you end up with Anna Karenina.

My basic rule of writing is this:

1. Avoid not writing.

In other words, get on with it. If you want to write, write. And if it’s good, it will find an audience. For that reason, I’m always more interested in writers’ habits than rules about writing. It is habit and discipline which enable us to get the words down. For that you might want to take a look at this site, which lists the working habits of many writers, artists and thinkers. Find the right way of working, establish the routine which works for you, and then, if there really are words and the stories are within you, they have a much better chance of finding their way out.