Unbreakable Rules

Frustrated woman screaming
Photo by Julien L on Unsplash
  1. To be a writer, you must write.
  2. To be known as a writer, you must put your writing into the world.

End of story. I’m only seeing two unbreakable rules.

There is nothing about grammar, spelling, syntax, or any of the countless other rules that you will be told you must learn before you proceed. There is nothing about agents, publishers, book proposals, or any of the other countless rules you will be told you must know before you proceed. The volume of knowledge you are expected to absorb can be intimidating, overwhelming, and downright terrifying. Maybe you should forget about it and avoid the stress.

I don’t want anyone to come unglued because of my disrespectful attitude. I’m not knocking knowledge about writing and publishing. It’s important stuff, but none of it matters without the words, the stories, and the experiences shared through the pure act of writing. That is the starting point.

I was talking to a friend about posting my writing to online platforms to get it into the world. Her reaction was, “Yes, create a blog. Format it. Get your SEO in order. Edit each piece you plan to post carefully. This will be great!”

No, it won’t! The whole project would bury me in new things to learn that are not writing. I am likely to make technical mistakes when I post this, but I have to stop worrying about that and focus on the writing. None of it will do any good without the words I have to share.

Rule Number One

Here’s where you need to start. Put pen or pencil on paper, or put fingers on a keyboard. Say what you want to say. Just spew out those words all over the page or screen. Critics and naysayers get out of the way. You have something to say, and you’ll bloody well say it. Maybe you don’t even know what you want to say. That’s OK too. Let out every word in your head and discover where it leads you. You might be surprised.

Do that as often as you can. You may or may not be beginning to create finished pieces for publication, but you are making the raw materials, the lumber you need to build your house. Maybe I’m overplaying a metaphor, but you can think of this writing as a sawmill.

Mission accomplished. You have words now. You have a message. Now go over it and edit. Rearrange sentences and correct errors. Throw out anything that doesn’t work. But listen carefully. Know when to stop editing. Editing a single page can go on for years if you let it.

Rule Number Two

You need to let it go. Send it into the world and hope for the best.

I met a woman who had been taking the same poem to workshops and writers’ groups for over a year, accepting all revisions. She wasn’t ready to publish it yet. She kept thinking it could be better. She wouldn’t let her beloved poem leave the nest.

Earlier this year, there was a massive suburban fire near my home, the Marshal Fire. Over a thousand homes were destroyed. Mandatory evacuations were about a mile from my house. I frantically loaded decades of journals and notebooks into boxes and dragged them down the stairs to load into the car. I feared that all of my writing would be lost. Very little of it was stored in the cloud, and none was published. I never had the confidence to take that step. Don’t let this happen to you.

Write your story. Do your best. Let it fly and see what happens.



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Kay Ford Johnsen

Kay Ford Johnsen


I’ve tried many jobs. Now, I’m tempted to move directly from not knowing what I want to be when I grow up to being retired. I’ve experienced a lot, though.