Editor's Pick Jonathan Richardson Original Writing

My rules of writing

  1. Treat it professionally.
  2. Have heroes and study them and their work. Aim to become one yourself.
  3. Know where you want to be and a rough idea of how you get there – but don’t be afraid to adapt if needed.
  4. Critique, critique, critique. But don’t feel superior as “there’s an awful lot of rubbish out there”. Of course it’s rubbish, if you’re not the target audience, and if you do deem it rubbish say why.
  5. Research. Research writing, research themes, research characters, but most of all, research people. I’m more interested in what a sociologist or psychologist has to say about character than an English graduate.
  6. Have something to say.

Why have them

These are my personal rules on writing and I will no doubt add to them (and the following statements) over time, but these are my core rules. Not principles; rules that I intend to follow for whatever I write – fact or fiction, drama or comedy, essays or scripts.

Having rules is not restrictive, it guides and sets parameters. Shakespeare’s sonnets were in iambic pentameter, as were his plays, and none the worse for it. Rules can be a challenge that forces you to think, think and think again on how to meet them, and it’s this reiteration of thought that I find produces the best results.

Having rules acts as guidance, sets parameters within which to explore rather than the lazy leaps from one place to the next.

Breaking the rules

Ultimately, it’s only those who know the rules who can modify and reset them. Picasso is famous for his abstract work, but he was trained as classical artist before doing so. Likewise Tracy Emin is an accomplished painter and knows ‘the rules’ she’s breaking (although I still wouldn’t fancy paying more than a tenner for any of her work).

Ultimately it’s about choice – are you breaking the rules on your own terms, or are you merely  trespassing?

Download “My rules of writing” as a PDF

By Jonathan Richardson

Jonathan Richardson is a writer and the editor of Considered Words.

He's worked as a journalist, writer and analyst for organisations including the BBC and Which? He's also written for the stage in Cambridge, radio and sketches at the Edinburgh festival.

He's now a freelance writer and data analyst.

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