#atozchallenge W is for The Writing Rule Book [Infographic]

Writers Rule Book Header

Writing Maxims to Live By, and Break

“There are three rules for writing. Unfortunately, nobody knows what they are.” – Somerset Maugham.

If only there were a Writing Rule Book, but it went missing, along with that Parent Manual 101 I was looking for some years back.

Despite this, there are many well-known writing rules or maxims espoused by everybody, and you’ll find many of these in my own Core Habit posts. Because – many of these maxims do make sense – to a large degree.

Our job, as successful writers is to take these rules, use them when appropriate, but also, with experience, break or change them if we really must.

This post is in the form of an infographic, because I enjoy them.

The Problem with Maxims

Lev Grossman's hand advice via Shared Worlds
Lev Grossman’s hand advice via Shared Worlds

Every maxim I give you in the infographic below has been espoused by many authors and writing tutors for years, but all are good subjects to bring up if you want countless opinions debating the pro’s and con’s of each. There are many best-selling authors who have broken writing rules like these to commercial success. Others have broken the same rules, and been rejected by publishers because of it.

BUT – these are only pieces of advice  – advice, admittedly, that have a sound basis and have worked for many writers. But advice only. As with all advice, each maxim in the non-existent Writer’s Rule Book, should be taken with a large dosage of salt. Some will work, others won’t for you. Your job is to work out which are core habits for your own writing life.

The Infographic : The Writer’s Rule Book or Writing Maxims

Writers Rule Book


Further Reading:

  • Lev Grossman's hand advice via Shared Worlds
    Lev Grossman’s hand advice via Shared Worlds

    This post was partially inspired by Anne R Allen’s blog post : The Secret Writing Rule Book…And Why to Ignore It, December 2012, and by my own growing collection of writing maxims. Anne’s post is a MUST READ, as she takes apart many of the maxims I personally have problems with.

  • Do a search for ‘writer’s maxims’ or ‘writing rules’ and you’ll find plenty more reading:
    • Elmore Leonard offers ten, aimed at helping writers avoid what he calls ‘hooptedoodle’.
    • Mark Twain, in his satirical essay ‘Fenimore Cooper’s Literary Offenses‘, came up with eighteen.
    • George Orwell limited himself to six rules, the last gave this instruction: “Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.
    • In 2010, inspired by the New York Times essay ten years earlier in which Elmore Leonard put forth his instructions, The Guardian published an article called “Ten Rules for Writing Fiction.” The editors asked twenty-eight noted writers, including Margaret Atwood, Neil Gaiman, PD James, Joyce Carol Oates, and Ian Rankin, for their writing dos and don’ts. Not everyone had ten, but the article in total provides 228 rules to go with Leonard’s. Some are wise, some witty, and some downright silly. All in all it’s a lot of writing advice.
    • The hands I’ve used in various posts in this series comes from Shared Worlds. For the 2013 project Shared Worlds Hand in Hand asked ‘speculative fiction’s finest artists, editors, and writers to write advice on their own hands and send a picture’.
  • In N for No No’s of Writing I gave reasons why following rules like most of these can get us into trouble.


AtoZ2013 _thumb

A-to-Z-Core-Habits3-_thumb.jpgThis blog post participated in April 2013’s Blogging from A to Z Challenge, along with many other blogs on subjects as diverse as writing, foodie blogs or mummy blogs.

This blog post is part of a themed series or pack on Writer’s Core Habits. I acronym this as WCH or WCHP © . Do a search for these tags, and you will find more in the series.

No affiliate links are used in these posts.

30 thoughts on “#atozchallenge W is for The Writing Rule Book [Infographic]

  1. I’m so pleased to see I inspired this post! We have to learn the rules because it’s so much more fun to break them afterward!

  2. Reblogged this on Elisa Nuckle and commented:
    Here’s a fun infographic on the basic rules and maxims of writing. They aren’t set in stone, but it’s nice to see them in a way that is easily understandable. (Also I broke like five maxims in this post alone. Just saying.)

    1. I agree whole-heartedly with you, Monica. As someone looking at the Indie route, I will be hiring editor(s) and where possible book cover designers etc.

      But I ponder if this advice is now being taken up by those who are looking at the traditional publishing route, or whether they still think that editing will come via that route, if accepted. (Personally, even if I do jump around and actually decide to seek an agent and publisher I will still take up the services of an editor at various levels, particularly as a new writer)

      1. Hunter – I think this is changing a lot. I see plenty of errors in books from publishers I think highly of, or at least consider wealthy and experienced enough to edit their books to a reasonable standard. From writers I know, I learned that most are hiring their own editors, and I’ve actually been hired for several stages of editing – by the writer, not the publisher. When contacted by an indie-route author, I quoted my rates and instantly lost the job, though, which lends weight to the received wisdom that, whatever the publishers are doing wrong with editing, it may be more than the indies are doing.

      2. I agree with what you said, Steve. This writing rule book infographic is years old now, but still popular. Rules (and I tend to not follow them often) change with the times, so people need to be a little aware of them as they go.

    2. I have years of experience as a professional editor, and on some of my projects even I will hire an editor. We may disagree on what s/he suggests, but I always listen and I always make chenges if something bothers her even if I disagree with the specific edit recommended. Nothing bothers me more than paying for a book that has never seen editor and proofreader.

      I say that as a writer and reader, not an editor.

      1. Hi Hunter
        I’m new to Pinterest (my daughter-in-law put me on to it when searching for something else) and I’m amazed at the genuinely helpful advice available for hopeful Indie writers. I used to write short stories for magazines when my children were young but wrote my first novel a year ago. It’s been well-received on Goodreads but I don’t know how to attract more readers to be aware of its existence. Everything I read points to social media and it’s an unknown and frightening realm to me. Is there someone out there who can tell me about it and explain how it works? Yes, I really am that stupid! A friend of my grandmother’s used to go round the house every night to make sure that there was a plug in every socket to prevent the electricity from leaking out. My understanding of Twitter/Facebook is on a par with that…
        Alex

      2. I can understand how social media can be so fear-inducing. My own collection of Pinterest images for writers alone totals thousands, and then there’s tumblr etc. So this is a generic reply to anyone fresh into this.

        Also, some people aren’t aware that blogs (like this one) are social media – one of the first of it’s kind. And although we are constantly told “blogging is dead” it is not, and blogs remain one of the best ways of retaining personal control over both our content and our brand.

        Most writers I’m aware of choose one or two social media outlets to form a web presence on. Trends change – once it was Facebook, then Twitter, a younger audience is found on Tumblr, Pinterest is king for images, but what about videos? Etc, etc, etc.

        If you do a simple web search you will find many good blog posts offering help on “social media for writers” and there are also some good writing craft books and online lessons on the subject. One site I recommend is Frances Cabello’s Social Media Just for Writers http://www.socialmediajustforwriters.com/

        Also, if you have a blog yourself, join in with one of the many challenges out there (like April’s A to Z Blogging Challenge), choose some to follow and learn from them.

        Another tip – when you are reading blogs like this one, take a note of the social media icons the writer has on their sites – go and take a look.

        And specifically for Alex – you are not just talking about social media, you are talking about promoting your book. There are some very good writing craft books out there towards this. But what I would say is – as I have Pinterest as one of my own main areas of social media, I would say something personal – when I see an unknown author sticking up a cover image of their book, it completely puts me off. It’s out of context to why people are on Pinterest, and I’m not sure it’s hugely successful in selling copies. So choose your audience and their social media to match. And offer that audience additional value – related information, something free (a short story?) to gain interest in your novel. Any good writing craft book on the subject will give you much more than this. Good luck!

      3. Thank you so much for your speedy and practical response. There’s so much there for me to follow up and I wish I’d discovered you sooner! I have tried to Google for social media advice in the past but the stuff I read generally assumed a basic knowledge that I completely lack. I disovered your reply just before shutting my computer down for the night so I’ll look at your suggestions in the morning when the brain is fresher. Again, thanks. And I do take your point about not ramming my book down people’s throats – I can see how counter-productive that would be…
        Alex

  3. Hunter,
    I hire an editor to look at my stories BEFORE I submit to traditional publishers. Many of my traditionally published buddies use talented critique partners (many of whom are at editor levels) but as I’m pressed for time, I hire an editor.
    I don’t know many professional writers who submit their stories without having them looked at by a second party first.

    1. This is true in my experience, and certainly one I aim for. But having joined up with a critique online group I have noticed a lot of writers using that option – professional editors are expensive, and out of budget for a lot of writers. If every writer ready to submit (either traditionally or self-publishing) was to have an enabled editor available (regardless of pricing) then we’re talking about hundreds of thousands of editors with very busy booking systems. At this point, we don’t have that. But we do have waiting lists.

      I also know of a couple of traditionally published authors now doing indie, who self-edit rather than employing pro editors – they have developed, as you say, a large list of fans who act as beta readers and sounding boards for them.

      My own personal solution as a new writer who just doesn’t have the thousand dollars or even hundreds to invest, is to seek out a good critique community, and beta readers first off, and at a later date invest in building a relationship with a good editor.

  4. I’ve written prologues, flashbacks, killed both kids and animals (yes, I write erotic romance), believe that background story should be woven into the entire story, have started with the weather…

    1. The Infographic points out that most of these rules are really suggestions (aside from backing up – which should be a rule, because most writers at one point in time tend to lose data out of not following it – as I did). Depending on genre, some of these things are more readily accepted than others. I’m wary of perhaps one thing – starting with the weather. I write prologues though, despite trying to avoid them, but I always end up with one.

  5. Pingback: Writer’s Rules
  6. Great rule book, I’m going to keep referring to it, you should add “avoid temptations to procrastinate as well”. The last few rules I am, however, totally planning on breaking. We’ll see how that goes 😀

  7. One maxim is unarguable. Back up your data. Back it up and back it up again and once more if you can. I know of nothing more frustrating than discovering an older project can be rewritten easily to meet the current specs, or that cutting/pasting and editing a passage from a previous story will save time for a later one and not having the file to work with anymore (or, worse, discovering the backup copy your thought you had isn’t there).

  8. I wrote a battle scene in one of my books but knew nothing about battle. A blogger who has extensive military experience offered advice. It was painfully obvious that I knew nothing about what I was writing and I used that to make the scene funny. He liked the changes.

    My point: Write it if it’s necessary to the plot, but ask an expert to read the scene and give advice. There are so many people in the blog-o-sphere with so much knowledge. One day, we may be the “expert” that could help someone write a scene better. 🙂

    1. Excellent advice, thanks. I have medical and genetic stuff in my current work, which I can do the bare basics of research for, to allow me to roughly write out the first drafts, but your advice has reminded me that I will need to ask an expert in genetics at a mid-point to make sure I’ve not created an accidental issue.

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