I’ve just finished reading Comedy Rules: From the Cambridge Footlights to Yes Prime Minister by Jonathan Lynn. Lynn was one half of the partnership (the other being Anthony Jay) who wrote the hugely popular Yes Minister and Yes Prime Minister comedy television series, and this book provides 150 rules for writing comedy. But, then again, it doesn’t. Let me explain.
Lynn uses these ‘rules’ to explain some aspects of writing comedy, whilst also drawing upon various moments of his life. It’s part writing handbook and part biography. However, one point Jonathan made was that these rules are not really rules but guidelines. And then, they’re only guidelines that he’s found useful to his writing - they wouldn’t work for everyone. (That doesn’t mean to say that it’s not full of practical advice for writers of comedy!)
In other words, what works for one writer may not work for another. And sometimes, what works for one writer might not always work for that writer. It’s easy for us to think that just because something has always worked for us in the past, it will always work for us in the future. These things then become our own rules that we find ourselves following religiously, which might not always be right.
Sometimes, it’s worth reviewing your own personal writing rules. For the next few weeks I’m going to be breaking one of my own writing rules. As a self-employed writer, I’ve always written for ‘work’ during the day: writing for pleasure is something I’ve only done in the evening. That’s been one of my rules for many years. But, now, I’m going to experiment! I shall spend part of my day writing for pleasure.
Why not consider what your writing rules are? Which rules about writing do you adhere to? Why do you adhere to them? Is there a valid reason for doing this? If not, why not break it for a few weeks? After all, rules are meant to be broken, aren’t they?