Robert's Rules of Writing : 101 unconventional lessons every writer needs to know

Nonfiction, Guide, Writing, Reference
Robert Masello
Paperback, 19.8 x 13.2 x 1.3cm*, 224 pages*
Copyright Date
Writer's Digest Books
*Information obtained from

In Summary:

Anyone interested in or new to writing as a career, side job, or serious hobby will find this book entertaining and informative. The advice seems practical, and it does a good job of carrying an encouraging, but realistic, tone throughout. Its division into over 100 discrete, 2-4 page rules may make for good bathroom reading, however since it is uncategorized and difficult to reference, the sheer number tests both memory and attention span.
And, yes, it applies to everythingians!


The point of this book is to impart some humble wisdom to any or all aspiring writers that Mr Masello, a professional writer, has gained. It is successfully constructed to not focus or even give weight to any one kind of writing over another,

Each rule is two or three pages. While being concise appears to be a goal, you are never left with the feeling that it moves on (from one rule or explanation to another) too soon. Everything is well explained. He methodically includes an example or anecdote with each rule, and these lend character to the book and give you a feeling of having the "inside scoop" from a real author... which, in fact, you are.

It is not a grammar textbook. It's more accurately described as a myth busting book, and many of the things he says go against popular wisdom. I think most readers of this book will find something in the book to disagree with, but Robert is up front about the fact that these are his opinions, based on his experience, and that YMMV.

Overall, I'd say this book made good on all of its promises (Rule 93 -- Engage in No False Advertising). I enjoyed it, learned from it, and support it. If you're interested in writing for an audience on any sort of regular basis, there is no reason to not read this book.

Nevertheless, let's get down to the obligatory nitpicking. He names and indexes each rule with some clever phrase, which makes it hard or impossible to reference. This is despite the fact that the cover labels it as a reference. If you want to refer back to anything, there is a good chance you'd have to skim each rule looking for the right one.

If you were looking to read the book front to back you're going to find yourself lulled to sleep by the unending parade of discrete and formulaic rules. Around rule 40 you start thinking about whether Masello realized he had around 100 rules to start, and then subsequently discovered the title for his book? Or, perhaps the book was written to fit its cover.

In addition to testing one's attention span, having this many items in a list makes it hard to remember.

Around rule 75 I found myself feeling as if I was simply reading a long series of rants, each separate but connected to the next like train cars.

Since each rule is given equal weight, I think that categorizing the rules would have helped alleviate these strains.

Some example rules:

  • Burn Your Journal (Rule 1)
    "Nine out of ten struggling writers get stuck right there [at the gruntwork]. Instead of confronting all the very real problems that any book, article, or short story poses, they retreat to their journals, on the theory that they're working out their literary muscles, loosening up their artistic tendons, free-associating their way to fresh ideas... Anyone can do that. Anytime."

    This is good advice for me personally. I am a compulsive journaler. But I'm not under the illusion that my journal is going to make me famous. I use it for other things, however, procrastination (one theme of this book) is one of those things.
  • Skip the Starbucks (Rule 7)
  • Take the Prozac (Rule 8)
  • Get Rejected (Rule 55)
    "It's a rite of passage, and the sooner you make your peace with it, the better off you'll be."
  • Show No Mercy (Rule 65)
    "Writing is a process - of discovery, of refinement, of invention. The notion that you can just bang it out in immaculate condition is worse than arrogant, it's positively self-destructive. First of all, you'll give yourself a complex thinking that all the other writers out there are turning out perfect prose while you're not. And second, you'll fail to do what needs to be done to make your work as good as it could, and should, be."
  • Doubt Everyone (Rule 66)
    "Even the most well intentioned advice can be distracting, if not destructive. I have personally witnessed fresh and original work get mauled in a group discussion and seen the writer leave with the impression that he should come up with something more predictable and in keeping with the group consensus. It's easy to be swayed, especially if more than one person is clamoring in you ear. Who among us has 100 percent confidence in his work?"

    My own opinion about advice: its invaluable insite into how other's react to your work. You also have to keep it in that context. It's an opinion, a suggestion, an idea, not truth. This rule fits into a different theme throughout this book where he cautions against letting others view, or even talking too much about, a work in progress.

The copyright statement on the title page of this book states that a reviewer may quote short passages for the purpose of review.

If you see a way that this review can be improved please let me know.