Do Writers Need Rules?

In this world there are rules. Plain and simple. When we are born we learn to crawl, walk and speak. Doctors learn procedures, ditch diggers learn to hold shovels and writers learn how to tell stories. If there were no rules or methods of learning we would all be sitting around with our thumbs up our rears. Harsh, but true. Larry Brooks wrote a wonderful article on the subject of writing fundamentals. Check it out and let me know your thoughts.

The Learning Curve That Keeps On Curving

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by LARRY BROOKS on MARCH 19, 2012

In all my years as a writer, writing teacher and blogger, I’ve never run into anybody who claims to knoweverything there is to know about storytelling.

That’s because the more you know, the more you realize how complex and deep it all can be.  Stories are like people, no two are completely alike, and therefore each needs to be regarded, analyzed, appreciated and repaired separately.

That said, certain fundamental principles and physics apply. 

Just like they do to people.  And they can be learned.

And yet, while nobody is claiming to know it all, I have run into writers who claim they don’t need to pay attention to those pesky fundamental principles and storytelling physics.  They say something like this:

“Don’t over-think it, just sit down and do it, let the story flow, trust your instinct, do whatever the hell you want, keep working on it and it’ll turn out like it’s supposed to. There are no rules.”

Not long ago I flew into Salt Lake to give a keynote and writing workshop at a major conference.  The young writer who picked me up at the airport was curious about my book (which is all about writing fundamentals and storytelling physics), and in the course of our conversation told me that one of writers who would be attending the conference – an older guy who had been writing for years – said my book was ridiculous, that there are only three things a writer needs to ultimately know, the rest is just hot air: the beginning, the middle and the end.

That’s it?  Who knew.  All these years, I’ve missed that one on the writing shelf.  This is the same guy who claims all he needs in life is “three hots and a cot.”

I asked now many books this guy had published.  The answer was none.

Interesting.  While I have run into writers who line up behind this simplistic belief system, none of them – zero – have been published.

Coincidence?  I think not.

And when it does happen – and I’m sure it does – it isn’t proof of the theory.  Rather, it’s the writer not understanding what just happened.

There are a few Big Names out there who claim to be listening to some muse, that they simply sit down and channel it.  But the truth (IMO) is one of three things: this is a transparent stab at modesty, they have a great editor, or they’re truly clueless and therefore just lucky to be where they are.

I don’t think the last two are it.  Such writers probably write organically, on instinct… but what is instinct if not the expression of something that has been learned?

In essence these writers are saying that they’re some kind of genius.

Diana Gabaldon comes to mind.  As does Stephen King, who is a genius, but in talking about “how to write” laughably discounts the fact he’s published hundreds of stories over many decades, which by definition means he’s learned something along the way, which again by definition means if something can be learned, it can be sought-out and it can be taught, if nothing else through acknowledgement.

Just because you haven’t filed a flight plan, it doesn’t mean you don’t know how to fly the airplane.  No,that part you have to learn. Read more here.


4 comments on “Do Writers Need Rules?

  1. Thanks Jamie. You are right when you say the game is changing. It’s about be able to write, market and get really outside of the box when it comes to finding readers and getting them to stop-look-listen to you. Thanks for stopping by. I will check out your blog for the giveaway!


  2. Thanks for sharing the article . . . I’ve learned sooooooooo much since I started writing novels in the summer of 2009. I think talent can only take you so far, and the game is changing for sure . . . being able to market yourself is key! BTW . .. 1 more day to enter my Easter Basket full of YA books giveaway on my blog if you’re interested:):)


  3. You are right in stating marketing is as important as the writing process. I do see a lot of rule changing in the writing process of the books I review. I love that writers look at writing romantically. We are all just inspired by the greats. Thanks for stopping by.


  4. No doubt a thought-provoking and and educational article, but I think the reason why the “beginning, middle and end”- faithful exist is because any method attributed to the ‘madness’ of creativity/writing takes the romance out of it.

    Of course, writers who look at writing overly romantically almost never succeed, and the famous ones we all love and want to emulate were almost all practical and protective of their time/routine/philosophies.

    The new generation of hyper-netwoking Ebook writers is probably the best example – the language or the story is often shite, but they spend hours and days committed to marketing and promoting and blogging and facebooking, and ultimately sell copies. Marketing is as much a part of “writing”, as writing!

    Of course, whether being published, or selling a million self-pubbed ebooks is indicative of the quality of your work is a different matter all together.


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