The One Rule For Writers

Long ago and far away, I was selected to attend a management training course, that had the sole objective of discovering future top managers for the company.  The last exercise of the training was administered with each participant in a private cubicle that contained only a desk and a chair.  On the desk were two items – an instruction sheet and an in-box that was over flowing.

Once I was seated at the desk, the facilitator, speaking through the intercom, said, “Bert, this is a timed exercised.  The results of this exercise will override everything you’ve done so far in the training and will constitute 95% of your final rating.  I’m not going to tell you how much time you have for the exercise, only when the timing begins.  Listen carefully.  Read the instructions in their entirety before you begin the exercise… OK, start now.”

I snatched up the sheet of instructions and moaned.  There were fifty items on the sheet and the clock was running.  I started reading:

  1.  Read every item thoroughly.
  2. Do not go to the next item until you’re sure you understand this item.
  3. Do not miss a single item on the list.
  4. Read each item in the in-basket.
  5. Note the number in the…


If I had ever wanted to skip an item, that was the time.  My corporate career was hanging in the balance – but I didn’t skip a one.  After what seemed a lifetime I read the last item.


50.  Pick up the in-basket and take it to the trash basket in the corner.  Dump everything, in-basket too, in the trash basket.


I was the only one in that particular class who read every item before beginning the test.   I owed that to my first crew chief in Vietnam who said, “Unless you have a death wish, never begin a mission by short cutting your preflight checklist.”


I’m a writer, an indie writer.  For writers, there are as many check lists and rules as there are people who fancy themselves writing teachers, and that number is infinite and growing rapidly.

I need something more concise – something to the point; something that incorporates everything that I need to remember.  After all, I don’t have a writer’s death wish.

I have it!  Everything I need to know for successful writing in one statement and in a moment, you will have it too – the be-all-end-all rule for writers.

“Involve your reader with your lead character and then involve your character in sustained mounting conflict.  Do that, and only that, and you’ll never go wrong.  Know this rule and no other and you’ll come closer to writing for money than if you know all the other rules.”  Jack Woodford – 1949

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2 Responses to The One Rule For Writers

  1. Richard Alan says:

    I had that same test in a management training class. I also did it correctly. I’m also a Vietnam vet. We learned our life lessons well. Great advice.

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