If his name is unfamiliar, you may have seen one of his novels as a movie and the FX original series “Justified” is based on one of his most popular characters, U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens.
Leonard was on a tour to promote his book The Hot Kid and he stopped at the Denver Press Club for a book signing. John and I got there early, took a seat at a table for eight and Leonard ended up sitting right next to us.
After lunch, he presented his “10 Writing Rules” that originally appeared as an article in The New York Times in 2001. “Easy on the Adverbs, Exclamation Points and Hooptedoodle” was later turned into a little hardcover book.
Most of his rules for writing pertain to works of fiction, but some of them work well for business writing, too. Here are a few of the rules he shared with us that day and my explanation for using them to write most things at work:
- Don’t start with the weather. (In other words, don’t delay getting to the point.)
- Avoid prologues. (Don’t start with background information, if your reader already knows it.)
- Keep exclamation points under control. (Save exclamation points for when your really need them, like two or three every 100,000 words.)
- Avoid thick paragraphs. (Readers prefer short paragraphs and lists.)
- Leave out the parts readers avoid. (Focus all your efforts on reader-centered writing.)
- Never use “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose.”
One approach of Leonard’s that won’t work for business writing is that he prefers to make things up as he goes along. “I have no idea what’s going to happen,” he said.