Rules of Writing

I have heard there are rules for writing that must be followed, especially by new authors.

In life, I've probably mostly followed the rules.  Tie your shoes.  Comb your hair.  Cross your Ts and dot your lower case Js.  Don't let the bed bugs bite.  But I usually didn't like it much, especially when the rules seemed arbitrary.  Perhaps if someone explained why it's so critically important to not go swimming for at least an hour after eating, I might be more inclined to obey.  Maybe.

Here's a rule I heard at a writing seminar given by a noted author.  "Eliminate all forms of the verb to be."  That encompasses a lot: am, are, is, was, were, be, being, been, and the helper verb will.  This speaker advocated use of action verbs, such as see and jump and run.  It reminds me of some ancient elementary school books.  Run, Dick, run.  Run, run, run.  See Jane jump.  Jump, jump, jump.

This rule, while perhaps wise, neglects to consider the value of the "forbidden verb" in some of our most cherished literature:

"To be, or not to be, that is the question."  (Hamlet by Shakespeare)

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,...."  (A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens)

"Fuzzy Wuzzy was a bear, Fuzzy Wuzzy had no hair, Fuzzy Wuzzy wasn't fuzzy, was he?"  (Fuzzy Wuzzy by Rudyard Kipling).

Another rule I've heard is that a writer should never, absolutely never, start a sentence with a conjunction.

And with that thought in mind, I am certain that rules are meant to be broken.



Posted on November 1, 2015 .


Keep It Simple, Stupid!

Lake Michigan

That phrase, according to Wikipedia, was a design principle used by the U.S. Navy in 1960.  It seems applicable also to book editing.

Wait a minute!  One of my previous blog posts was about book editing, and here is that same topic again.  Boring!

Maybe, a little.  But KISS is something that I need to keep in mind while editing my own writing.  Keep it simple.  I'm learning.

I'd also like to share a few simple quotes from other writers on the topic of editing.  These came from (where else?) the Internet.  (If it's on the Internet, it must be true.)  Here are the quotes:

“You should edit before and after editing.”
-- Dwayne Fry

“There is no great writing, only great rewriting.”
-- Justice Louis Brandeis

“It was a miracle to me, this transformation of my acorns into an oak.”
-- Betsy Lerner

“Only the writers can change or fix the past by going back to edit old works.”
-- Munia Kahn

“Remove the comma, replace the comma, remove the comma, replace the comma...”
-- R. D. Ronald

So, inspired by these wise writers, I must go back to the manuscript I'm drafting and replace (or is it remove?) that comma -- again.


PS:  On the topic of "acorns into an oak", I do have a brief story.  Was recently in Michigan in an area that is packed with giant oak trees.  One night, a 30-mph wind came off Lake Michigan.  The acorns fell like hail.  The noise, as they pummeled the metal roof, was like machine gun fire.  Bam!Bam!Bam!Bam!Bam!  I don't know if any of them will become oaks, but the chipmunks love 'em.


Black Walnuts and Writing -- Again?


Yes, there is more to say -- and part of it does apply to Nathan Hale Parker, the main character in my crime novels.  That connection is described below.

In the previous post, I discussed the 12 wheelbarrow loads of black walnuts and osage oranges that were hauled and returned to nature elsewhere.  Since then, an equal number of loads have been wheeled away.  We had frost here, and that really accelerates the pace of falling fruits.  There have been more freezes -- I wonder how many fell?  A surprise waiting for me in the yard.

I also mentioned that black walnuts are unpalatable.  The whole truth is that some people do eat them.  But it ain't easy.  The nut itself is surrounded by a thick husk.  Peeling that away reveals the brown-black sticky inner surface -- that will stain your fingers like henna dye.  So wearing gloves is advised.  Then there is the shell of the nut, which is extremely hard.  Squirrels gnaw through it pretty easily.  I prefer to use a hammer.

That lengthy process finally reveals the tiny meat of the nut, which is loaded with good nutrients.  But it has a bitter taste.  Yet when used in cooking, it does add a distinctive natural flavor.

How does this relate to Nathan Hale Parker?  Except for a brief period in his stories, Nathan doesn't own a house.  So he's never had to pick up black walnuts from the yard.  Lucky guy.

As for osage oranges, I've never tasted one of those.  And don't plan to.  Even squirrels won't stoop that low.


Black Walnuts and Book Editing

black walnuts

These two topics are connected -- really.  Please read onward.

My front yard has several tall native trees (black walnuts and osage oranges) that produce bumper crops of unpalatable fruit.  So in the fall, I spend many many hours picking up these botanical rejects from the lawn.  Billions of black walnuts (golf ball to baseball-sized green orbs) and a few lumpy brain-like green osage oranges (softball-sized spheres).  Yesterday morning, I took twelve wheelbarrow loads of walnuts to the woods behind the house -- picnic time for the squirrels.

While doing this mindless task, my brain can focus on earth-shaking topics, such as, "What was the name of that movie I watched last night?"  Or, "Did I put the milk back in the refrigerator?"  Or, "Why don't my socks match this morning?"

I also think a lot about book editing.  Some edit ideas pop into my head.  So I dig a small spiral notebook and pen out of my pocket to jot them down, and remind myself that I really need to do more and more and more editing, to make my novels more irresistible.  I'm relatively new at creative-writing -- I'm learning.

But I digress from the important topic: black walnuts.

When I finally finish picking them all up and dumping them out of sight, I get the reward:  the sight of a clean yard.  Yay!!


Dang, another walnut just fell.  OK, I'll pick it up.

Thump!  Thump!

Only two more.  No big deal.


They're everywhere again.  Well, at least I've never been hit by a falling black walnut.  I bet those suckers would hurt.


That one just hit me!  On the head!  I'm gonna sue!

Well, at least I've only been hit once by a falling osage orange.  That really hurt.


That's it.  I'm getting a hard hat and a suit of armor.


As if the trees really care.

And the point is....?  Collecting black walnuts and book editing are never quite done.  For the latter, I hope that with enough experience, I"ll got this erditing thang write,