My Rules For Writing

Mary Oliver had three rules for writing poems.  She said that every poem:

  • must have a genuine body
  • must have a sincere energy
  • must have a spiritual purpose

If she came up with a poem that didn’t meet this criteria in her own view, “it was rebuked and redone, or discarded.”

This got me thinking.  What are my rules for my writing?  What standards do I want to hold myself to?

1. Accurate

The first thing that comes to mind is, it must be accurate. As a writer I struggle with a temptation to be lazy in my memory or attributions. I don’t like to do the research to cite the article or search for the quote.  I would like for my work to have integrity in this area and be trustworthy in the statistics shared and credit given. 

2. Authentic

Secondly, I’d like my pieces to be helpful to me.  Writing helps me make sense of the world. This feels selfish to type but another temptation I face is to anticipate how my work is going to be perceived by others and write toward that or against it.  When I write to help someone else it comes out preachy and condescending.  When I write to help myself, the wrestling I’m experiencing is shared with others.  In the shared struggle is where authenticity emerges. The pieces that have been the best received are the ones born from my own searching. 

3. Art

Lastly, I will write as art first and foremost- to add to the beauty in the world. My writing is my art.  It is my craft.  It is what I create.  It is not primarily criticism nor activism nor theology. It is a shaping of the components of the world in a way that contributes light and glory. It is my art. 

There it is. My north. My plumb line. My guardrails.  From now on what I put out into the world will be: