Are There Rules to Writing? This Oscar Winner Thinks So.

One of the many awesome things about the internet is that you can learn how to do anything or learn how to improve something you already know how to do by tossing a few keystrokes into Google.

There are free videos galore on YouTube (Did you know that “how to” vids on YouTube get 4x the views of animal videos?), as well as tons of paid learning opportunities from colleges, experts on any subject, and more.

My staff and I have studied on,, and my latest favorite,

Yeah, they cost some money . . . but education on any subject has the best ROI on the planet (I met someone recently who told me they wanted to learn how to speak Spanish, but wouldn’t spend the money to buy an online training course . . . and then the dude told me how he went to Vegas and blew a wad of cash at the Blackjack table. #PrioritiesPeople).

Anyway, I di-grant. (That’s digress and rant smooshed together.)

The most recent course I’ve taken on is a screenwriting class taught by Aaron Sorkin.  No, no, I’m not looking to pen the next Pulp Fiction.  But Aaron is a guy that has written successful plays, successful TV shows and successful movies . . . and that says to me he’s a guy that understands how to tell a story.  And getting better at that will make me a better Producer/Writer/Blogger/Marketer/Anything.

I’m only about halfway through the course, which cost me $90, and already I’ve gotten a whole bunch of truth bombs (as well as some fun West Wing stories).

But my favorite so far was the session I watched yesterday when Aaron talked about the rules of writing.  He preambled that so many artists he runs into think that creating art of any kind is so freeing because there are no “rules.”  On the contrary, he insisted . . .

Rules are what make art beautiful.  Without them, you’re just finger painting.

Is that a Sorkinism or what?

He referenced Aristotle’s Poetics (of course), and I was reminded of my favorite blueprints for writing anything, The Writer’s Journey and Steve Cuden’s Beating Broadway (I liked that book so much, I ‘booked’ Steve for my upcoming conference).

And I agree with Aaron 101%.  And whatever rules Aaron pays attention to, all of the rest of us lay-writers need to pay twice the attention to.

But I will offer one suggestion to free up those who feel restricted by any rules.  Write what you want to write.  If you run into problems, consult the rule books.  Don’t do the reverse.  Writing “by the rules” becomes writing “by the numbers.”

Go.  Write.  And then, if something isn’t working, go back and check your favorite rule book.

– – – – –

Interested in learning more about topics like this? CLICK HERE to join The TheaterMakers Studio, an online community, certification training program, and resource for playwrights, producers, directors, actors, and theater makers of all kinds!

Related Posts


Ken created one of the first Broadway podcasts, recording over 250 episodes over 7 years. It features interviews with A-listers in the theater about how they “made it”, including 2 Pulitzer Prize Winners, 7 Academy Award Winners and 76 Tony Award winners. Notable guests include Pasek & Paul, Kenny Leon, Lynn Ahrens and more.