Frea Interprets Vonnegut — Rule #1

Hi, all. I got bored and started dissecting Kurt Vonnegut's 8 Rules. I've got them set up to post automatically throughout the week, so feel free to keep checking back and see "Frea's interpretations of a much better writer's words."

They should be...interesting. At the very least.

Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.

Writing is, by its very nature, a solitary activity. You can go to meetings, read blogs, commiserate on Twitter, sit in a room full of other writers, so and so forth, but at the end of the day, it’s going to be your butt in that chair with that blank page in front of you. And nobody but you is going to be the one to write it. So writing is about you.

Ironically, writing is also about complete and total strangers. Sure, you might know your audience, but you write not for yourself, but others, and that means the minute your writing is away from you, it’s in the possession of a complete stranger. That’s right. You write alone to entertain strangers.

It’s a little daunting put that way, I know. Nine times out of ten, you can’t sit behind them, giving them the director’s commentary and answering their questions. So your writing must be self-contained enough to stand on its own, to answer any questions the reader might have (even if the answer is, “I’ll tell you later.”). It’s your job as a writer to learn not only story, but the craft to tell that story in the most entertaining way possible. ...this really isn’t getting any less daunting, is it?

Hm, perhaps I’m not so great at the “pep” part of the pep talk. All right, all right, let me put it this way. There’s a quote that goes, “A writer is somebody for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” Thomas Mann said that, and I think he had an idea what he was talking about. Wow, I should really just stop right now before I convince the lot of you not to become writers. What I was trying to say before I dropped us all in this rabbit hole is that writing isn’t always easy. It’s not always difficult, and nine times out of ten, if you think you’re a great writer, something’s about to come along and either smash that ego to pieces, or perhaps you’re kind of crap.

For most people, writing is work. And it’s not something that magically happens overnight where you decide, “I think I’ll be a great writer today!” No, most of us unlucky bastards have to sweat and toil over every word. You know why? Because we entertain complete strangers. We’re egotists at our very core: we’re telling complete and total strangers that they should listen to us because we have something awesome to say, and that our words are worth their time. Then, you know, we actually have to follow through on that promise, which is where the rest of the rules help.

So, yeah, what this rule is really saying: “Know your craft, dope. If you have something to say (and you should always have something to say if you intend to make somebody read your writing, even if it’s “I missed you!”), say it the best way you possibly can. Don’t bore complete strangers. Geez.

Also, I really feel like this post should be accompanied by a Gibbs slap.

Part: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8


  1. This is an interesting take on part of the conflict that can happen. A writer should always tell the story they want to tell but if that perfect stranger isn't interested or entertained by that story then in many respects what is the point. But a writer shouldn't try to be all things to all readers because ultimately no one gets truly satisfied and the story suffers.

    I've found in my brief experience that sometimes the chapters that are the most difficult to write end up being the best and then sometimes if feels like I am simply transcribing a story being told to me. But the focus has to always be to tell the story you want to tell but make sure its in a way that the reader can relate to it. They may see something completely different than you intended but is that really a problem? I'm not sure. If it a specific point the writer is trying to make then yes it can be but if it is a feeling or impression of character or story, maybe not. As long as they react and as Kurt says don't feel like they wasted their time its ok.

    I'll be very interested in seeing your interpretation of the rest of the rules as I have a feeling you may not completely agree with all of them and I'll be curious to read that. But thanks for sharing this. It should be a fun read.

    1. I don't entirely agree with all of the rules, or I take some of them with a grain of salt, that's for sure! I think a lot of how a reader infers and a writer implies has to do with the skill level of a writer; over time, you learn, I think, the best words to use in each scenario that help get your point across more admirably. I read a blog post that pointed out that the best way to raise awareness about an issue is to get a bunch of writers talking about it: they may be dead wrong, but they'll always be entertaining.

      I'm a very strong advocate for practice as a writer. There are some geniuses that can just put pen to paper once and create a masterpiece, but I think for the majority of writers, practice is necessary. So is learning to get through the scenes where it feels like you're bleeding on the page, or the scenes that come so clearly to your mind, you really are just dictating what the voices say. For me, I can work on a scene for days, crafting it so particularly, but the scene that'll get others' attention might be a scene I dashed off in five minutes. I can never fully tell how well something is going to go over until it has, you know?

  2. Anonymous9.3.12

    Who was it who said writing is 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration?

    1. I think Thomas Edison said that about "genius," anon. Hemingway put it this way: "There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed."


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