[Doctorow-L] What "writing rules" actually mean

Cory Doctorow doctorow at craphound.com
Mon May 4 15:06:37 EDT 2020

My new Locus Magazine column is "Rules for Writers," which sums up a
long-overdue revelation I had teaching on the Writing Excuses cruise
last fall: that the "rules" we advise writers to follow are actually
just "places where it's easy to go wrong."


These rules are, in fact, checklists of places to start looking for
places where your fiction might have gone wrong - places where it's
likely that you screwed up. They're varsity-level tasks that are hard to
get right.

There's an important distinction between this and the tired injunction,
"You have to know the rules to break the rules." It's more like, "If you
want to figure out how to make this better, start by checking on whether
you messed up when doing the difficult stuff."

That frame has been very useful to me (one of the reasons to teach
writing is to learn to be a better writer by having to explain things
that you just sort of bumbled into). I hope it helps you, too.

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