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Book Review: Robert’s Rules of Writing – 101 Unconventional Lessons Every Writer Needs to Know

On a casual stroll through a bookstore my eye caught Robert’s Rules of Writing. Because of it’s play on Robert’s Rules of Order. I took the book from the shelf and flipped it over, mostly interested to see what angle this author took on the over-published topic of how to break into writing.

I bought the book because of the blurbs of sample rules on the back cover: “Burn your journal,” “Spend time gossiping,” and “Buy the smoking jacket.” These were certainly not only unorthodox, but in direct conflict to the standard rules printed in every other guide I had read.

Robert Masello reveals his humor and innovative approach right out of the gate when he writes in the preface:

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.)

That’s not to say his rules are just idiotic contradictions. He backs them up with substantial logic. I found them, for the most part, to be insightful and in some cases very helpful. Let’s take a closer look at just the three aforementioned topics.

Burn your journal. Masello found this rule so important he made it the first in the book, even though common wisdom will tell you in order to improve, you must write daily. In his explanation he does encourage daily writing. He also suggests that scribbling daily muses into a journal is not working on your craft. He goes on to say:

Writing in a journal is a stall, a waiting game, a way to tell yourself that you’re working when you’re not.

While I understand what Masello is suggesting, I personally believe journaling is a good thing, as long as it is not being used as a distraction from the task at hand. Sorting through your own feelings and events can spark ideas for fiction. Knowing how many fiction authors draw from personal experience, I have to believe I’m not the only one to find journaling a helpful tool.

Instead of “burning the journal,” I would suggest that the rule should be, don’t use your journal as a crutch or a distraction.

Spend time gossiping. This direction made me raise an eyebrow. I was anxious to see what value Masello could find in petty hearsay. He goes on to explain that involving yourself in the rumor mill keeps you in the loop, and directs you in what stories are “worth telling,” so to speak.

While I see value in keeping current with what’s hot and whats not, as well as exactly what it is that outrages or mortifies the general population, I can also see where this could easily become a diversion. I find that while having a keen eye on market trends is important, you have to be able to know when to stop researching and get to the business of writing. As with many of the unconventional Rules of Writing, there is a helpful nugget at the base of gossiping that one must be careful not to overuse or abuse.

Buy the smoking jacket. This, in actuality, is a new take on one of the more conventional wisdoms. A play on the “if you see it, and believe it, you can achieve it,” Rule 56 preaches that while you’re “working hard at becoming the successful writer,” it is perfectly acceptable to see yourself as that person with all the payoffs of achieving the goal. If to you, that means owning a smoking jacket and enjoying expensive cigars, then by all means do it.

The other ninety eight Rules of Writing shared in this book are, at the very least, good advice. This is not a style book, but more fresh ideas on how to approach your topics, your characters, and your writing in general; I found it to be fresh, comical, and most important, thought-provoking.

It is my opinion that, with the endless supply of writing how-to books out there, this is one that is worth the read. You will have to sort out for yourself which ones are hard-fast rules to work by, but I am confident you will find at least a few suggestions that will give you a fresh approach and a new attitude.
Edited: PC

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