For the next few months I plan to publish quips on and rules for writing. Most of these are paraphrasing of well known writers. For the first few, I did not locate the source, so I have no attributions. The exact wording I use may be original, but the basis is old.

The most you can say about how the authoritative a writing rules is:

They probably have occasionally helped their author’s writing.

Many, probably most, good and great writers have shared thoughts on how they write or on rules they follow in their own writing. Nearly all of them would agree that there is probably only one rule in writing—be entertaining. And even that doesn’t apply to writings for one’s own understanding, for catharsis or sanity.

And a special note on my sources: These are often paraphrased, in other words, they are mis-quotes.

The quips and rules in this chapter express the writers’ attitudes and many of these reflect rules they observe themselves. Whether they work for you depends on many factors. Knowing the rules, even if it is only to break them in fun ways, is helpful to most writers.

Writing Quips and Paraphrasings



A book worth banning is a book worth reading.


Capitalization is the difference between helping your Uncle Jack off a horse and, well, you get the point.


Characters are the heart and soul of your novel.


Compromises are for relationships, not writing.


In the legacy publishing world it’s usually necessary to follow writing conventions (“rules”) until you make the publisher enough money. Then you can flaunt the rules.


The anvil falling out of nowhere onto Wile E. Coyote provides no conflict or suspense. The suspense stems from knowing it’s going to happen from all the earlier toons we’ve seen.


I can tell you on good authority that you have been listening to the English language at least five or six years longer than you have been writing or reading. And, most probably, your ears also had eighteen or more years of familiarity with the language before you began to read or write with a writer’s sensibilities. [I.e., read your work aloud before your final rewrite.]

Adachi, Jiro


Drama is anticipation mingled with uncertainty.

Archer, William


He was so Methodist he didn’t even have any coffee or tea in the house.

Barker, Jim


I’m interested in how people arrange themselves, how they sit or stand. It says a lot about who they are.

Barker, Jim, Photographer


Adverbs and adjectives are most detrimental to precision and concision.

Bell, Susan


Do not confuse redundancy with leitmotiv. While leitmotiv repeats a theme undercover, as it were, disguised as a word or image, redundancy brazenly repeats an idea on the surface of the text.

Bell, Susan, The Artful Edit