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Robert's Rules of Writing: My Commentary

Welcome to a new feature on Mabfan's Musings for all you writers.

Earlier this year, one of my favorite writers, Robert Masello, published his third book of writing advice: Robert's Rules of Writing: 101 Unconventional Lessons Every Writer Needs to Know (Writer's Digest Books). I've been through it a few times, and I thought it might be fun to examine each of his rules in detail, and provide my own commentary. I'd also invite other people to join in the discussion.

A few ground rules. First of all, it's likely that we're going to find rules we agree with and rules with which we don't. Masello even notes in boldface, "Some of these rules, let me warn you, are provocative, controversial, and counterintuitive. You may even want to duke it out with me over some of them (and that's okay, since you don't know where I live)." Criticism of the rules is fine, of course, but attacking Masello or anyone else for their suggestions is ad hominem, and I won't allow it. What works for him or for me may not work for you, and that's fine.

Second: The book is designed with each short rule given as a header, but then Masello has a short essay to explain each rule. I'll quote the one-line rules, of course, and then discuss both the rule and his essay. However, since I'm not going to quote the entire essay each time -- for one thing, it would be a violation of copyright -- it's possible that I might phrase things badly, or get something wrong. So if you respond to something I said, and then I have to reply that you're wrong because I misrepresented something in the book -- I apologize in advance. (Of course, the easiest way to participate in this discussion would be to get a copy of the book for yourself; and obviously, I wouldn't be discussing the book like this if I didn't recommend it myself.)

Finally, keep in mind that Masello is aiming his advice at people who are or who want to be professional writers, earning their living (or a major portion of it) from their writing efforts. So if you feel like his rules are slighting people who are writing "just for fun," well, you're right, and it's not a valid point on which to criticize his rules. That would be like criticizing a history textbook for not including enough guacamole recipes.

So over the next few months, until I get through all 101 rules, Mabfan's Musings will turn into a place for discussions of writing advice, along with everything else we like to talk about here -- history, science, and of course, comic books.


Ah! thank you, I'm writing again, attempting to write for publication this time. So more writing advise, in nice easy to digest chunks, is good.

(*sigh* this novel is coming along in fits and starts)
Good luck with the novel, and I'm glad you're looking forward to these posts.
thank you. this is a bit more abitious that anything I've attempted to datem, but it means I'm writing again, which is good.
Great idea! I'm looking forward to this. I've been tempted by that book, and I suspect this will put me over the edge into buying it.

Alas, one criticism: Where are the guacamole recipes?!
1. Make salsa.
2. Add avocado.
3. Sprinkle with lime.
4. Mush, mush, mush.
5. Require other people who actually like green slimy food to taste-test.
Excellent, thanks. More recipes should have the step "mush, mush, mush."

In fact, that's not a bad piece of writing advice.

Dogsledding across snow as a metaphor for writing. And your fingers are the team of dogs. Mush! Mush!
Obviously, I recommend this book highly.

I also recommend anything and everything Lawrence Block wrote about writing; Damon Knight's Creating Short Fiction; and many others.
Oh, so glad you're doing this! I really need it right now.
Glad to be of service!
So if you feel like his rules are slighting people who are writing "just for fun," well, you're right, and it's not a valid point on which to criticize his rules.
I assume by 'slighting people' you mean that the rules are not appropriate for someone writing just for fun, not that he makes slighting references to people who only write for fun. In the latter case it would be like a Spanish cookbook that kept making slighting references to French cuisine - which I think is a perfectly valid point to criticize.
No, he doesn't attack people who are writing just for fun -- but he does have choice words for people who view their act of writing as a type of performance art. But I'll get to that when that rule comes up.
Good thing that book didn't end up in the box of missing writing books, huh?

This should be great fun!


December 2016

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