Lately I’ve been doing a lot of talking on the subject of writing (as the invited guest at some function, mind you, not just on a corner with a bullhorn). The well goes dry after too much of this, and with more such gigs coming up on my calendar, I’ve been turning to the How To Write section in my library, 808 on the Dewey Decimal dial. I’ve lugged a lot of books back and forth. One book that’s gotten renewed, however, is an entertaining little collection of short essays that I recommend: Rules of Thumb; 73 authors reveal their fiction writing fixations (edited by Michael Martone and Susan Neville).

Many of the essayist claim to eschew all rules; indeed, a number have a fixation on “no rules.” This is not a how-to book in the typical sense; but there is plenty to take away. I especially loved one nugget from a favorite writer of mine, Lydia Davis (profiled this week in The New Yorker, BTW): “A comma or lack of it can be so eloquent.”