Writing Rules

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And this, our life, exempt from public haunt, finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, sermons in stones, and good in everything.”

William Shakespeare

I try to imagine William Shakespeare reading a book on the rules of writing.  Rules create a comfort zone, even for those magnificent free spirits who feel constrained by their limitations. Grammar and punctuation give structure;  subject and verb agreement  eliminates confusion; omitting redundant words brings the thought into crisp focus.

W. Somerset Maugham once advised, “There are three rules for writing a novel.  Unfortunately, no one knows what there are.” Mason Cooley, professor emeritus of English, speech and world literature at the College of Staten Island said “there are different rules for reading, for thinking and for talking.  Writing blends all three of them.”   He didn’t elaborate on the particulars so I assume that it is an individual exploration into the three activities.  He did say, however that “when you can’t figure out what to do, it’s time for a nap.”

Writing is an inward expedition.  With every idea, word, sentence, paragraph we are constructing our personal rules.  It is our journey, our voice and our message.  When we offer our thoughts to the world, we invite others to join in the conversation. Ernest Hemingway likened it to a well supplied by fresh water.

“I learned never to empty the well of my writing, but always to stop when there was still something there in the deep part of the well, and let it refill at night from the springs that fed it.

Ernest Hemingway

26 Thoughts

    1. Thank you! Writers are the storytellers of our civilization. I like Cyril Connolly’s take on this: “Always be nice to those younger than you, because they are the ones who will be writing about you.”

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      1. Hemingway had a way with words. He experienced the full spectrum of emotions and was able to write what many feel but could not express. His relevance is timeless.

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  1. Love the Hemingway quote. I’ve personally experienced the well drying up and being replenished during the night. It happened to me again last night, actually. 😉

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    1. I agree. Something magical happens when the mind is at rest. BTW, Hemingway has some interesting and “colourful” things to say about writing that are rather. One of my books for 2013 is “A Movable Feast.”

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  2. Sometimes (not too often) I reread something I have written and I think, “That’s nice!”. lol
    And that is a good feeling. Not all may agree with my self assessment …. which is fine.

    I suppose my rule would be that I should like what I write and feel good enough about it that I am willing to share it.

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    1. A very good rule indeed! You touched the heart of writing – willingness to share. Even the “great” writers have some reservations about sharing.

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    1. When I was considering writing this post, I refreshed my memory on the grammar rules. You have the right word – paralysis. An excellent question – art vs. rules. You have given me something to think about. Thank you!!

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  3. Very well written. I especially like the part, “Writing is an inward expedition…” This is a new journey for me and I look forward to writing more. Thank you for sharing.

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