I was twelve when I wrote my first “poem” — It was about a sad leaf falling from a tree. Oh boy, was it terrible! So, I moved to novels. At that time the Internet was an empty and slow place. In desperate need of guidance, I’d read book after book in search of the rules of good writing. At first, I had learned all those rules. Then, one by one, I broke them all. All but one.
Rules are everywhere. At school, at the library, at work, on the road, in your family, in a relationship. Rules are important because they make sure that the world we live in keeps functioning properly.
Imagine what would happen if you entered a restaurant and instead of eating that strawberry pie you pooped it on the table.
Do not do that, it is against the rules. And disgusting.
Do we need rules in writing?
We are not talking about grammar here. You need that. We are talking about the rules of good writing — Those pieces of advice given by blogs, experts, and writers.
It seems that everybody has one for you:
- Write what you know – Write only when you have something to say – Write every day
- Write every day at the same time – If it sounds like writing, rewrite
- Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue – Avoid prologues
- Avoid detailed descriptions of characters
- Don’t go into great detail describing places and things – Do not write long sentences
- Do not use big words – Avoid the abstract
Some of these rules may work sometimes, but not all the rules work all the time.
Take write every day for example. This is a disastrous rule if you have a busy life, children and wife, and perhaps a mistress too. Some experts even add a little corollary to it: Write every day and at the same time.
Sh*t, I will never be a real writer!
What about the diabolical trinity: Do not use big words — Don’t go into great detail describing places and things — Do not write long sentences?
Is your reader so slow that will not understand big words or long sentences? What if your novel only consists of a long description of an empty place? Who knows, it may be the masterpiece of the century.
If it sounds like writing, rewrite — One of my favorite rules.
It makes sort of sense except that, as a reader, I do like novels that sound like writing because, you know, I am reading words written by a writer. What if your text, which sounds just like writing, is the most touching piece ever written? Sorry, it is forbidden by the rule.
Write what you know and all those never or always rules are frankly… literary bullshit.
Two points against all rules
- Rules prevent writers from creating original stuff — I love those novels that unfold exactly as you would expect a novel to unfold. Writing according to canonical schemes is perfectly fine in my opinion, but if you want to spice your text up and break all known schemes, please do it! Show us! You may come up with something exceptional never seen so far.
- Writers don’t know sh*t — The way most writers do it is: Uhm, that sounds good, let’s keep it. Uhm, that sounds terrible, let’s cut it. I am convinced that most writers, including some of the greatest authors of all time, do not know exactly what they are doing. And this is a good thing. Writing is discovery; it is exploring an infinity of possible routes to find that ultimate and unique path.
Don’t get me wrong. Rules are important. They codify the experience of thousands of writers who lived, suffered, and wrote before us. Rules provide a foundation and structure to guide us, but they are not absolute and should not be treated as such. Learn the rules, know them by heart, and then feel free to break them.
The only one rule of writing that you cannot break
You clown! You are contradicting yourself!
Yes, I know. I like doing that. But before you judge me and click away to one of those “How to in X steps” blogs, hear me up.
There is only one rule in writing.
It is a simple rule, but very hard to apply. The rule is:
Write and Keep Writing No Matter What
Write with arrogance. Write from within.
Write whatever you want to write about, whenever you want to do it, by using the words, sentences, style, adverbs, and adjectives that you want to use.
Write. Do not stop. Keep writing.
Well, it may sound easy, but it is not.
Because while you are writing, the world keeps spinning and your daughter cries, your wife cheats on you, you have no time, you have to work hard, you have to earn money, the weather is splendid and you need to go to the park, that movie, the one you really need to see, is out, the blue sea of that paradise island is there waiting and you really need to go for a swim… Because while you are writing, life happens.
Despite all of that, write and keep writing — No matter what.
That is the only one rule. The only one you simply cannot break.
— WRITTEN IN SARDINIA
I took the “Paradise Island” cover photo during my trip to San Blas, Panama.
The “Due Correnti” photo was taken in one of my trips to Sicily. For more check on