Rules for Writers? Think Again.

Anyone who writes and is on Twitter will have probably seen the writing-rule storm that Jonathan Franzen unwittingly unleashed last week with his 10 rules for writers. Reactions ranged from genuine outrage and swearing to mock advice that was in many cases brilliant, so I’ll be sharing this here.

But first I want to say a few things about rules and writing. I know writers, and artists in general, I suppose, don’t really like the sound of the word. But the good ones know there must be rules. The “There are no rules” argument is not an argument at all, it’s ridiculous. You do have to write coherently, for instance. If you just string random words, this is not writing in the sense of the word we seek to convey when talking or writing about writing, that is, the production of a readable, understandable text. The telling of a story. For another instance, editing is essential. Even Fran Lebowitz — an author who notoriously does not work with editors — certainly edits her own work.

So, let’s agree there must be rules, as there are for any form of art in order to create the best art possible. But I’m guessing a lot of you who write would also agree that Franzen’s rules are for the most part as ridiculous as “there are no rules.” And you know what’s funny? I saw these rules earlier this year, I think, or maybe it was last year. I’d never read a word written by Jonathan Franzen until then and his rules put me off his other writing completely. I’ll have to live my life without his fiction but I’m not sure I regret this. Now for the fun. Enjoy! Also, feel free to add your own rules for writing.

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