The Rules of Being a Writer

In the past few days I’ve encountered several articles and blogs touting “important rules” to becoming a writer.  I have a theory about rules and writing: they seldom work for anyone except the person who came up with the rule.

A few of the “rules” I’ve seen being promoted of late (and these are fairly common) include:

Rule #1 – Thou Shalt Write Every Day!

Wow – how’s that for some pressure.  If we all buy into the belief that you can’t be a real writer if you don’t write every day, the pool of writers would drop significantly.  There are many great writers who subscribe to this rule, and many great writers who do not.  I fall into the second group.  Being a good writer means more than scribbling or typing frantically every single day.  My advice (and that’s all it is, folks) is that you do something writing-related every day.  Reading is just as important (and sometimes more important) than writing.  Not only does reading expand your mind and give you better insight into the universe, it can also be good marketing research if you are a writer looking to be published.  In addition, exposing yourself to a variety of writing styles helps you to determine what your own style should be without ripping off someone else.  If I come across a piece of writing that makes me laugh, or makes me angry, or elicits some other emotional response in me, I want to know how the writer did that.  I break down each sentence word by word to understand how that emotion was triggered.  Then, when I need to create that same emotion, I have those resources to draw from for inspiration.

Rule #2 – Thou Shalt Keep a Journal

I used to keep a journal.  I used to be very faithful at keeping a journal.  Then I decided to focus on writing, and I didn’t need the journal for the same purposes anymore.  Now I write in my journal only when I need to clarify my own thoughts, or vent frustration at someone without causing an argument.  Journaling can be valuable, and if you keep a journal – more power to you.  However, requiring a journal of someone to consider them a real writer is to impose requirements that aren’t necessarily helpful.  It’s sort of like writers’ busy work.  Not everyone needs to keep a journal to be a writer.  If it works for you, and you find it helpful, then that’s enough.

Rule #3 – Thou Shalt Free Write at Ungodly Hours of the Morning

God bless Julia Cameron.  I know she has helped thousands of writers and artists and other creative types, but she helped to cause me a serious case of writer’s block.  Not everyone is a morning person, and I am one of those who most definitely is not.  I tried for more than 30 days to get up early and start writing before my “internal editor” kicked in, and half the time I’d fall asleep with the pen in my hand and wind up with something that looked like this:


With practice, anyone can learn to turn off that inner voice that wants to criticize everything you write.  Sometimes it’s a little easier, and sometimes it’s a little harder.  Getting up at oh-dark-thirty and trying to force yourself to produce something is not going to work for everyone. 

Rule #4 – Thou Shalt Not Refer to Thyself as a Writer Until Thou Havest a Book Published.

If you aspire to write, you are a writer.  I was teaching writing and hosting conferences long before I had a book in print.  I did have magazine and internet articles, but not a book.  I know a lot of people who haven’t published a book who are great writers, and I know a few who have published (if that’s what you can call it) books who don’t know very much about writing at all.  The truth is, any schmo with enough money can have a book published, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that person has put in the time, the revision, the effort necessary to be a writer.

If there is something that works for you, be it journaling or morning pages or whatever, then it works for you.  It becomes your guideline for creating success.  However, that it works for you is wonderful but does not necessarily mean it will work for everyone.  The number one rule (for me) to being a writer is remaining flexible, knowing that your guidelines will change from time to time, and always being on the lookout for ways to do your work better and more effectively.

Thus endeth this lecture.


10 thoughts on “The Rules of Being a Writer

  1. Darcy says:

    Much love for your commentary to rule #1.

  2. jerrylwatson says:

    I agree with your rules. I tended to wander from the prescribed path and still do.

  3. Margaret Diehl says:

    Writers exist to break rules. What else are we for?

  4. […] W. Justesen wrote up a post in response to four annoyingly common “Rules of Writing”.  You’ve heard them before.  You’ve probably read about them in a multitude of different […]

  5. drtombibey says:

    I am still learning the craft (I guess I always will be) but my number one rule is to do my best to show the truth with words.

    It may be skewed, and only the truth in the way I see it, but that is my goal as a writer.

    Dr. B

  6. jennareynolds says:

    This was a great post. I’ve struggled with Rule #1 becuase if I don’t write very day I still feel guilty. But it’s not like I”m not doing writing stuff on the days I don’t write. On those days I’m either reading (I’m hardly ever without a book in my hand or at hand), or researching or taking a walk and thinking about my story.

    So thanks for this post!

  7. Robyn says:

    AMEN sister! Sing it!! I’ve always felt guilty because I’m not very writerly! Now I’m FREE! 🙂 Thanks

  8. ella post says:

    I love it that someone just yelled out rules to writing, how insane. The book may be good for some. All writers have their own “rules” and techniques for writing. My muse would run and hide if she thought she had rules to go by. So thanks. Love your idea. to me the rules for writing is. there are no rules.

  9. gracekang12 says:

    I especially appreciate what you said about rule #4- “If you aspire to write, you are a writer.” As a beginning blogger and college student, my writing experience thus far has been limited to yearbook articles and random articles for a small newsletter here and there..

    this article really helped me. Thanks!

  10. shelbiemmoore says:

    I love this! I used it as a reference in my paper for my English class. Great stuff love 🙂

    ❤ Shelbie M Moore: Teen author/Poet

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