Whoops—sorry. Look what I have gone and done. The title of this blog is grammatically incorrect!!! But even though I don’t like rules about writing, or rules about anything else for that matter, I think I can give our readers a few helpful tips by inviting eight famous guest authors to lend me a hand.
Let’s start with a tongue-in-cheek excerpt from Great Rules for Writers by Pulitzer Prize winning columnist William Safire:
Do not put statements in the negative form. Don’t use no double negatives. Never use a big word when a diminutive one would suffice. Don’t overuse exclamation marks!!! Last but not least, avoid clichés like the plague.
Whoops—I’ve slipped up again. I already used too many exclamation marks in my first paragraph, and I’ve added two clichés to boot. Now I’ve done it again!!! No worries, though. I've invited another author to join in:
There are three rules for writing the novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are. (W. Somerset Maugham)
That did not help. Besides, this is a nonfiction blog. I should probably go back to the beginning and start with tips about writing good titles. My own valiant attempt may not have been grammatically correct, but did it at least attract some attention? To find out, I looked up a rule about writing blog titles from Top 100 blogger Daniel Scocco:
It must be search engine friendly. Like it or not most people find information through search engines.
Hmmm…check it out. Google says there are about 1,040,000,000 results for the word “writing.” That’s pretty stiff competition. OK, so how about this writing rule from the great Mark Twain?
The personages in a tale shall be alive, except in the case of corpses, and that always the reader shall be able to tell the corpses from the others.
I like this rule. But I think Mr. Twain is referring to fiction again, and this is still a nonfiction blog. Maybe these will do:
If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out. (George Orwell)
So far so good (another cliché on my part, though). Will any of these writing rules help?
Prayer might work. Or reading something else. Or a constant visualization of the holy grail that is the finished, published version of your resplendent book. (Margaret Atwood)
Never open a book with weather… The reader is apt to leaf ahead looking for people. (Elmore Leonard)
Do it every day. Make a habit of putting your observations into words and gradually this will become instinct. This is the most important rule of all and, naturally, I don't follow it. (Geoff Dyer)
Oh. Maybe none of these rules will do the trick. (I know, I know—another cliché.) So here’s the one final rule of the day. It’s from a dead journalist who wrote about war, boxing, and food. I try to follow his rule religiously:
The only way to write is well, and how you do it is your own damn business. (A. J. Liebling)