Rules for writing

The Guardian is doing a series on “Rules for writers.” They’ve asked contemporary authors to offer their “golden rules” for writing.

I’m by no means an “esteemed” contemporary author (unless you’re asking about my self-esteem), but I thought I’d throw my own offering into the ring.

1. Don’t set the jumps too high. This one I learned from Julia Cameron and her book, The Artist’s Way. Basically, it means don’t start off by setting grandiose goals. There’s no harm in setting the bar so low you’re in danger of tripping over it – so long as once you cross the bar successfully, you raise it, just a little bit. Start with a goal you know you can meet – maybe it’s writing 100 words one day a week. When you meet that goal, raise it a little bit – write 100 words two days a week. Or 150 words one day a week. Keep going and, before you know it, you’ll be writing every day. You’ll have written a story, a poem, a book or a play – whatever you’re aiming for.

2. All writing is writing. This one I learned from an epigraph in a novel that quoted Rainer Maria Rilke. I’ve forgotten the book – I’ve forgotten the exact words of the quotation. (It may or may not have been from Letters to a Young Poet.) All I remember is the gist – even when you are writing about your inability to write, you are still writing. Every bit of writing I do – an email to a friend, a newsletter for a client, this blog post – counts. It is all opportunity to exercise my writing muscles and practice my craft.

Those are my rules for writing. Really, they’re reminders – to keep going, keep trying, keep believing that eventually this will all add up to something.

What are your rules for writing?

Hilary Friesen

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3 Responses to “Rules for writing”

  1. Katherena Vermette says:

    my favourite rule for writing is a little magical secret formula called A.I.C – ass in chair. the only difference between writers and non writers is the actual work!!

    good job hil! your blog was much appreciated on this morning!

  2. Eve says:

    I take most of my writing rules from my idol, Roald Dahl. Here are three of them, in his own words:

    “You must be a perfectionist. That means you must never be satisfied with what you have written until you have rewritten it again and again, making it as good as you possibly can.

    You must have strong self-discipline. You are working alone. No one is employing you. No one is around to give you the sack if you don’t turn up for work, or tick you off if you start slacking.

    You must have a degree of humility. The writer who thinks that his work is marvellous is heading for trouble.”

  3. Mela says:

    Vindication! Thank you Eve and nyah! to those (you know who you are) who say, “It’s perfect the way it is–it’s not going to get any better–just leave it,” when something keeps drawing me back because some niggling little voice inside me keeps saying there is something that could be better.