Deep down, we know the rules of writing. Or the rule, rather, which is that there are no rules. That’s it. That’s the takeaway point from any collection of advice, any Paris Review interview and any book on writing, whether it be Stephen King’s “On Writing” or Joyce Carol Oates’s “The Faith of a Writer” (both excellent, by the way, but only as useful as a reader chooses to make them).
Despite this fact, writers continue to write about writing and readers continue to read them. In honour of Elmore Leonard’s contribution to the genre, “Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing”, the Guardian recently compiled a massive list of writing rules from Margaret Atwood, Zadie Smith, Annie Proulx, Jeanette Winterson, Colm Tóibín and many other authors generous enough to add their voices to the chorus.
Among the most common bits of advice: write every day, rewrite often, read your work out loud, read a lot of books and don’t write for posterity. Standards aside, the advice generally breaks down into three categories: the practical, the idiosyncratic and the contradictory. From Margaret Atwood we learn to use pencils on airplanes because pens leak. From Elmore Leonard we learn that adverbs stink, prologues are annoying and the weather is boring. Jonathan Franzen advises us to write in the third person, usually.