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

A quick book review of a book for writers.

I started Robert’s Rules of Writing a few months ago and set it aside. It wasn’t because I didn’t like it. It was because I felt like reading something different at the time.

I picked it up the other day and took it on the plane with me to New York, where I spent the Thanksgiving Holiday. I didn’t feel like carrying the novel I’d borrowed from the library. I wanted something small and light, something I could pick up and put down without losing track of a plot or having to backtrack to remember what I was reading.

I’m about 4/5 through this book and I can’t say enough nice things about it. The author, Robert Masello, offers 101 “rules” for writers and uses about two pages, on average, to explain each one. Some of them seem to contradict known “rules” that writers have been following for years. For example, Rule #1, Burn Your Journal, would likely upset many creative writing teachers and the students who hang on every one of their words. But Mr. Masello carefully explains why a journal isn’t necessarily a good thing. I have to say that I agree with him.

In fact, I agree with just about everything he says — which is pretty unusual for me. We all know what a disagreeable person I can be.

In short, if you’re a beginning writer — or interested in becoming a writer — you really ought to pick up this book. It’ll give you a lot to think about. Or, in many cases, re-think about.

And if you’re already an established writer, you may want to pick up a copy and go through it. Although you should have learned most of this stuff for yourself, it’s good to read someone else’s take on it. And it’s given me quite a few ideas for essays that I can include in the Writing categories of this blog. Information from my own experiences that I think beginning writers may learn something from.

The only thing I didn’t like about the book was its funky layout. Someone in the publisher’s production department thought it would be cute to mix graphics in a distressed Courier (read that typewriter) typeface with book text, fiddle around with boldface type and indented text, change alignment for certain paragraphs, print some pages white on black, and generally make a mess of the book’s layout. I found it incredibly distracting and a bit difficult to read. When the words are good, why screw around with the way they appear on page? I’m sure someone in marketing had their hand in this one.

Overall, though, it’s a big thumbs up. And with an affordable price tag — $14.99 US — it’s a nice addition to any writer’s library.

What do you think?