Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like

New rules

Artist Richard Diebenkorn had some rules about the way he should approach his work. I can’t remember where I got these, but I was inspired enough to copy and paste them at the time. I was also inspired enough to come up with a few of my own. When the going gets tough, it’s always good to have some reliable aphorisms you can fall back on.


1. Attempt what is not certain. Certainty may or may not come later. It may then be a valuable delusion.

2. The pretty, initial position which falls short of completeness is not to be valued—except as a stimulus for further moves.

3. DO search.

4. Use and respond to the initial fresh qualities but consider them absolutely expendable.

5. Don’t “discover” a subject—of any kind.

6. Somehow don’t be bored but if you must, use it in action. Use its destructive potential.

7. Mistakes can’t be erased but they move you from your present position.

8. Keep thinking about Pollyanna.

9. Tolerate chaos.

10. Be careful only in a perverse way.


1. Pay less attention to what the market wants. Make the market want what you do. 

2. Improvise freely within a loose structure. This way the subconscious finds things you wouldn’t land on if you mapped it all out too finely. 

3. Stop thinking about the things you can’t control, like sales. Serenity now. 

4. If it occasionally feels like there’s no reason to keep doing it, stop doing it till that feeling passes. Work on music [or whatever] instead. 

5. It’s okay to give up on a project if it’s not working out. 

6. Try more short pieces and submit them to small magazines. You can get validation that way and not have to invest months on longer stuff. 

7. Always write the novel you want to write. It’s got to come from the deepest part of your own gut. 

8. Make sure there’s always an injustice that needs fixing in the book. 

9. Be open to the surprising, even if it doesn’t quite fit at the moment. It came to you for a reason. 

10. Realness is less important than the internal integrity of the piece. The piece has its own reality, but it’s only as good as its foundation. 

What about you? Do you have any guiding principles that keep you going in this biz?

[Photo by Fabrizio Chiagano on Unsplash.]

14 comments on “New rules

  1. Marie A Bailey
    May 10, 2021

    I don’t have any guiding principles but I love yours more than Diebenkorn’s!

    • Kevin Brennan
      May 10, 2021

      Hey, thanks, Marie! It does feel like some of his are a little cheeky … 😉

  2. Audrey Driscoll
    May 10, 2021

    I like yours better too. It’s different for visual artists–physical stuff can be “edited” only to a point, whereas text, especially electronic text, is infinitely editable. At least as long as the writer has the desire and energy.

  3. Audrey Driscoll
    May 10, 2021

    Reblogged this on Audrey Driscoll's Blog and commented:
    For all that I love arguing with rules for writers, here are some worthy suggestions from author Kevin Brennan, along with others from artist Richard Diebenkorn.

    • Kevin Brennan
      May 11, 2021

      Thanks for reflagging, Audrey! You sent quite a few people over. 😉

      • Audrey Driscoll
        May 11, 2021

        You’re welcome, Kevin. That post was worth sharing.

    • Kevin Brennan
      May 11, 2021

      I mean reblogging. (Damn autospellcheck!)

  4. robertawrites235681907
    May 10, 2021

    An excellent list, thank you for sharing it.

  5. Books & Bonsai
    May 11, 2021

    Not really sure what keeps me going these days, if I’m honest. It’s better than the alternative though…

    • Kevin Brennan
      May 11, 2021

      True. Whenever I get really pissy about it all, I just ask myself, “Are you ready to stop?” So far, the answer’s always, “Um … no.”

  6. equipsblog
    May 11, 2021

    March to the beat of your own typewriter or keyboard might sum many of those up. Fun list .

    • Kevin Brennan
      May 11, 2021

      It does seem to boil down to that, doesn’t it? Or, Do what you gotta do.

  7. Pingback: Contest Winners! and a Proper ROW80 Update – Deniz Bevan

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This entry was posted on May 10, 2021 by in Writing and tagged , , , .
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