If you started today and learned a new writing rule every day for as long as you live, you still wouldn’t have learned them all.
When I say rules, I mean the broadest possible sense of the word: industry wisdom, writing tips, good practices, guidelines on storytelling and manuals of style. Each advice you come across holds a promise.
“Learn me,” it whispers, “and I’ll help in your career.”
“Discover the ten things that literary agents don’t want you to know, and you will get past the gatekeepers.”
“Read this, and you will immediately become a better writer.”
It’s easier to walk away. To make matters worse, you keep hearing about those who broke half the rules in the book and succeeded regardless, and then about those who learned writing diligently and never got anywhere.
The truth of the market is that readers don’t care about literary conventions. Readers read because of a craving they had, or a craving they didn’t know they had until they read a story that satisfied it.
Readers care about remarkable stories told with confidence.
The Main Rule of Writing
The main rule of writing, as Neil Gaiman puts it, is that if you do it with enough assurance and confidence, you’re allowed to do whatever you like.
Now, knowing rules (again, in the broad sense of the term) is a perfectly viable path to gaining more confidence in your ability as a writer. Unfortunately, there isn’t a rulebook I could point you to. Different stories succeed for different reasons. Think The Lord of The Rings, Fifty Shades of Grey, Harry Potter, and Twilight; each succeeded for different reasons and with different audiences.
Write Your Own Rulebook
Take a look at the genre you’re writing and the writers you appreciate. You can use their thoughts on the craft as your compass. Take a broader view and see what the new and emerging voices are doing. Maybe you’d like to follow their lead. Or pick a different direction entirely, because you have a good reason to.
There are many rules of writing stories, each one correct in its own way, but none without exceptions.
In the end, every writer writes their own rulebook.
What useful rules could we find in yours?