A recent Quotable was amusing (and Greg’s comment even moreso), but it pointed to a simple truth: there is no formula for good writing. It is more art than science.
For years, I’ve relied on the 22 rules in Strunk and White. And lots of others, as well, many so ingrained I’m sure I don’t realize I’m following them.
Ernest Hemingway, like many of us, began his career as a journalist. He prized these four rules he learned while working at the Kansas City Star (although there are times to break any of them):
1. Use short sentences.
2. Use short first paragraphs.
3. Use vigorous English.
4. Be positive, not negative.
The last one refers to word choice. Write that something is economical rather than cheap. Tell us what a thing is rather than what it isn’t.
The Guardian canvassed lots of writers for their rules on how to get the job done. The advice is in two parts; the link to the second part is found not far beneath the headline. Be sure you’ve got lots of time for reading, or bookmark the page and plan to revisit frequently.
I don’t know that, in the end, there are any rules for writing. Anything you can get people to read and enjoy may be counted as a success, whether it uses proper grammar or punctuation or even a traditional plot. If you capture your audience’s attention and make them glad they’ve read your work, you’ve followed the only rule that really matters.