The best writing rules and advice

Elmore Leonard's rulesAuthor Steve Hockensmith posted a good reminder today about following other people’s writing advice:

“I need Steve Hockensmith’s Rules for Writing Like Steve Hockensmith, but nobody else does. If you want to be a good writer, you need Your Rules for You.”

Sometimes breaking your own rules, even, is OK.

Also — and I probably shouldn’t admit this — I’m not a big believer in writing advice from anybody. As that noted literary thinker James T. Kirk once said, “We learn by doing.” Taking a class isn’t going to teach you how to write. Reading a book isn’t going to teach you how to write. Writing and writing and writing is going to teach you how to write. …

… So I bring to all writing advice a grain of salt about the size of a watermelon, even when the writer doing the advising is one I respect as much as Elmore Leonard. I see Leonard’s “10 Rules of Writing” cited a lot, and there’s some real wisdom in it. Of course there would be. When it comes to modern crime fiction, Elmore Leonard is The Man.But here’s the thing: Leonard’s list is misnamed. It’s not 10 Rules of Writing. It’s 10 Rules for Writing Like Elmore Leonard. If all you want to write are Get Shorty pastiches, well, this’ll give you a great head start. But if you have any interest in your own voice as a writer — indeed, having any sort of voice at all — keep in mind that Leonard’s commandments weren’t written in stone by the finger of God. They were banged out on a Smith Corona by a dude in Michigan. Big difference.

What do you consider YOUR rules — your “ten commandments” — for writing? Why do they work for you?


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