Poetry and personal blog – Spilling my guts to strangers

Three Rules for Writing

There are three rules for writing. Unfortunately, no one can agree what they are.

– Somerset Maugham

When I tweeted this quote some weeks ago, a friend suggested I use it as a starting point for a blog post. I thought it was a great idea because it would be my opportunity to spin this concept on its head a little.

The Pre-Rule

It may be cheating, but my rules assume that you have a good grasp on grammar. You are well read, especially in the type of writing you are interested in. When you read, you read with the mindset of a writer. You analyze what works and what doesn’t.

Every writer has a reason why she or he writes, whether it is self expression, art, education, money, attention, or some combination. You have a good idea of what being a writer means to you.

With that out of the way, the first and foremost thing to know is …

Rule #1 : There are no rules that can’t be broken: Just write.

This is especially important when approaching the first few drafts. Depending on what you’re writing, it may be quite acceptable to boldly go where others wouldn’t dare and buck a principle of grammar, or to twist a convention of storytelling. If your experimental and innovative ideas don’t work as well as you wanted them to, it’s ok. Rarely is a piece of writing  perfect on the first try. Some pieces are good just for the practice. Most, though, can benefit from treatment with Rule #2.

Rule #2: Edit, edit, edit.

After a first draft, put your piece away for a while. When you pick it up to work on it again, read it with the eye of a writer. It may take some practice, but you have to apply the same objectivity to your own writing as you would to someone else’s work. Are you really achieving the affect you are going for? Does a particular phrase work? Does the overall arc make sense?

Editing your own work requires humility. You can’t be so in love with your words that you can’t bear to change something if it doesn’t serve the greater good. It helps to show your work to trusted family members, friends, or writing colleagues for feedback. Hopefully, they can be specific and honest about what works for them and what doesn’t. Seek advice from a professional, if you need to.

Don’t take feedback personally but rather as a tool to rework your piece–not necessarily to change it in the way someone else would like it, but to make your intention clearer, whatever that may be.

I believe that a first draft is a broad sketch that only starts to show its true colors as a result of editing–rounds and rounds of editing that can take hours or days, let’s say for a  blog post, or weeks, months, or years for other types of writing.

At a certain point, though, it’s time for rule #3.

Rule #3: Trust yourself to let it go.

This could be the hardest rule to follow. How do you know when your piece is finished? A feeling very much like relief washes over me, and my head feels like a weight has been lifted from it. There’s nothing more to add or subtract and I’m not tripping over awkward phrases. This is not a very scientific answer, to be sure. Everybody has their own way of determining when enough is enough. But at some point, it’s time to let it go and move on to the next project.

An even harder task, psychologically,  is to trust that your work is good enough to release into the world. Logistically, it’s easy to blog it, submit it for publication, self published it, and take advantage of the many ways to share your craft with the rest of us.

So, there are my rules, for what they’re worth.

What are your rules?

[This post was included in the July 2012 edition of the Third Sunday Blog Carnival.]

© Sweepy Jean and Sweepy Jean Explores the (Webby) World, 2011


Comments on: "Three Rules for Writing" (46)

  1. I’ve always been a good editor. Maybe because my command of the English language is fairly good, maybe because I am widely read. I was the official editor of all my groups’ papers during nursing school (through three degrees). Unfortunately, I tended to put off writing my own paper until the bitter end, and so mine usually went to the instructor with nothing more than spell check touching it.

    Blogging has made me more disciplined. I tend to still write and publish on the same day. But I reread the post several times before I hit enter. And sometimes go back and make a change after publishing, if I see something that looks awkward.

    I think your rules make perfect sense. Which may be why your blog is so well written. (That, and your talent, of course.) 😀

    • Aww, thanks, Cath! ❤ Depending on the type of blog post, I either get it out really quickly or I take my time. But it is a great way to practice self editing because usually there's nobody to give it another look, at least in my case. I definitely think reading improve one's grasp on the language..

  2. Great article. I loved all your rules. I could definitely identify with this one, one I’ve been really grasping myself lately ” You can’t be so in love with your words that you can’t bear to change something if it doesn’t serve the greater good. ”

    Sometimes I’ll write something, and it will sound really good, but it just won’t fit, or it will be redundant. I’ll write that down for perhaps another time and then cut it out of the article. Part of being a writer is being able to let things go for sure. A great book I’ve always enjoyed is Strunk and White’s “Elements of Style”…the big theme in the book ” brevity brevity brevity”. In journalism class, another rule, that I oftentimes think of, is “show don’t tell”.

  3. Sweepy, great set of rules!

    I edit the daylights out of my posts. Rarely do I type up a post and hit enter without checking it and rechecking it. I’ve always sucked at grammar and proper English (did better in Spanish class) But I’ve noticed that during this past year of blogging I’ve gotten better.

    When it comes to the topics, HA!! as you’ve read a few I am sure 🙂 I write about whatever floats my boat that morning, or what ever kept me awake the night before.

    Your so right about the “trust it and let it go” I am bad about letting it go. But quickly learning that sometimes it’s best to do just that.

    Great post and tips.


    • If your grammar has improved, it’s probably a case of practice makes perfect! It also seems your “thing” is self expression? That’s why I like your blog. Variety is the spice of life! ;p

  4. i have not given much thought to this but i like what you have for rules. i am going to think on this for a bit am see what i can come up with. god bless

  5. My rules are,
    Put your feelings down on paper.
    If they make you smile, cry, enraged, scared, happy, ecstatic, edit them.
    When you no longer wish to add another line to it,sign your name.

    Lovely post…

  6. No matter how many times I edit, I always find something else to correct. It is a never-ending battle, but the result is wonderful. 😉

  7. Such great advice you’ve given here! I agree that a strong command of grammar is a prerequisite for any writer. Being able to edit yourself critically is also a crucial aspect of writing. I work at least a week ahead on my blogs so, when it comes time to actually type them on my website, I have distanced myself enough from the original words to see what needs changing.
    Great post!

  8. Janaki Nagaraj said:

    Great post …I just put my feelings down on the paper, read it once over and most of the time it is what it is supposed to be. It is only much later that I feel I could have done better…:)

  9. Great advice… I write when I feel like it and I try to keep it to the point, precise and very short.. tough to do most of the time… but I keep trying.

  10. Great rules Sweepy! Especially #2. I edit over and over, almost in OCD mode, and still always see something that I missed LOL.

  11. Rule three is my favorite 🙂

  12. Finishing what I write for me is like that comment by Paul Valery: “A poem is never finished, only abandoned.” When I finish a piece of writing, I do get a feeling of relief with regards to the main theme but it’s the details that kill me. I always feel there is something else I can do to make it better!

  13. Thank you, this was great SJ. Learned a lot from your post. I am an editor in overdrive….i edit like crazy…i am seldom happy with my pieces and therefore rule number 3 hit me hard. well said.

  14. Considering that I don’t think of myself as a writer this was a bit different for me to read. I follow no rules and simple write as I would talk if I had that skill, or someone to talk too. I have been blessed with a spelling gene and I read avidly I am sure that does make a difference. I a couldn’t tell you a single part of a sentence, although I do know what a verb is. So you see, I am a rebel even in writing. This was a great post, I will be rereading it to see what I can glean. Thank you.

  15. To write honestly. I know not everyone likes my voice or style and for a while this bothered me so I thought about changing who I was, but the words wouldn’t come. Now I write for me, and sometimes I find others who like my voice exactly the way it is. Love this post – rules like this are etched in my mind.

  16. Well let me say.. Eye dont neeed to edite as I as really well read i is.

    That said, seriously I do little editing as It’s usually nothing major, just short and sweet as I’m not going for a Pulitzer…

    But great rules for those who want one!

    Cheers Sweepy
    Kisses A

  17. Lovely post Sweepy. I loved that bit about editing, that you have to have humility to do that. When I write my poems, it just comes straight from what I am feeling at that moment but yes I do have to edit to give it a structure.

    My latest poem

  18. wow! this is an amazing post and really helpful esp for a newbie like me. thanks for taking the time to write and share this to us. 🙂

  19. Rule #2: Edit, edit, edit.

    This is my mantra in life. I write fast first drafts, but I’m not sure what good that does me, because by the time I’ve gone through multiple revisions there’s often not a lot left! Revision is the key to writing.

  20. I am not sure that I can qualify as a writer. I don’t have many rules except: write, write, write. English is not my first language, which means that I am a terrible editor. I am never happy with my drafts. I probably need to work on rule 3…

  21. Hello.
    I was never good with grammar. Thank goodness for my trusty Executive Assistant (harassed wife) to help me.
    I don’t follow any particular writing style…my style is my own & works for me.
    I do like your rules though.
    Thanks for sharing & visiting. I appreciate the comment.

    For ref:
    Eleven Roses And You

  22. […] D. Joyce presents Three Rules for Writing posted at Sweepy Jean Explores the (Webby) World. This is my take on the three most important […]

Leave a Reply; Comments Can Be Made Anonymously

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: