how to write like twain

Want to write like Twain? Like Meyers? Like Rowling? Like any world-famous author?

You can and it’s easy. Let me prove it to you.

But first, a story. It’ll get you in the right train of thought for the mind-blowing, super secret strategy I’m about to reveal to you.


a baby elephant was born into the circus. Given the name Auteur, he would follow in mommy and daddy’s footsteps, traveling from town to town, thrilling audiences. But to do so, dear Auteur had to be trained.

Immediately after birth, the circus trainers placed a cuff around our little boy’s leg. The cuff was attached to a chain and the chain was connected to a stake in the ground. Yes, our darling baby, curious about the world, couldn’t go any farther than the chain allowed.

Auteur wanted to see what the world beyond was like. He wanted it so badly that he wore a trench into the ground at the outer edges of the limit. Our baby pulled at the cuff. Straining against the chain harder each time so that the harsh metal cuff bruised his little leg.

“Whatever, Ms. Luke!
What the hell does this have to do with me writing like Twain?” 

Stick with me. I promise that it’s worth your time and just may change your writing life.

Back to my story about Auteur and how, with the cuff, chain and stake, he’s being trained to stay within the trainer prescribed circle.

That cuff hurt and day after day of strenuous pulling didn’t get him anywhere. Eventually our sweet Auteur accepted that he was stuck.

Yes, one day Auteur just stopped trying to go beyond the chain.

He settled down next to his mommy and daddy, who also wore cuffs with chains that were staked to the ground. They never pulled on theirs, though. Neither did the rest of the elephants in the circus.

Our little guy grew up fast. Every day, through his childhood, Auteur was restrained. While the cuff got bigger to fit his growing leg, the chain and stake remained the same. He never forgot, though, how much it hurt when he strained against the cuff.

So he never tried to get free ever again.


What our huge and glorious elephant doesn’t realize is that the stake has always been hammered just a few inches into the ground, enough to restrain a baby elephant for sure, but never an adult elephant. All grown up, Auteur is much stronger than he was as a babe. With quick painless tugs, all the elephants could yank the stakes out and be free.

But Auteur doesn’t know it. Like the others, he has been trained. Like the others, our boy never forgot his painful experience with the cuff so that, years later, he still assumes he is constrained.


If you’re a copywriting buff, you may have recognized Mr. Sugarman’s assumed constraint theory.

Assumed constraint is a big problem for elephants. It’s also a huge problem for storytellers, especially the ones who faithfully study and follow the so called rules set down by self-proclaimed trainers writing specialists, teachers, coaches and gurus.

I’ll demonstrate assumed constraint among writers … with another story.

What did you expect? I’m a storyteller!


little Elaine wanted to be a writer. She wrote stories that had been bouncing around in her head for a long time, and submitted them to a few agents and editors. The rejection letters she got back stung. They told Elaine that her stories needed to follow this rule or that rule. She wasn’t ready, they said. Elaine needed to learn her craft, they said.

And so she did. Elaine bought dozens of how-to-write books, and spent thousands of dollars to attend seminars and conferences. She absorbed all the rules. Often those rules confused her because the gurus had conflicting ones. But Elaine kept learning until one day she was certain she had it down.

Smiling with confidence, Elaine wrote some more stories and submitted them to publishers far and wide. The next batch of rejection letters burst poor Elaine’s bubble. The cruel letters said that her stories still didn’t fit what they were looking for.

Convinced she was still doing it wrong, Elaine went back to the books — bought even more of them, and attended even more conferences, continuing to study the so called craft that the writing coaches, teachers and gurus say she must master.

Sadly, Elaine’s next round of submissions were turned away with the worst complaint of  all “you need to develop your own voice”.


Elaine assumes that she is constrained simply because the self-proclaimed specialists, teachers, coaches and gurus had slapped the cuff on her early in her writing career. That girl lost her distinct voice the moment they assumed her writing had to be constrained … dom-dom-dooooooom … because of the stake rules. How did they ever think she could write anything world changing while constrained to the trainers circle? She can’t.

You can’t!

But there’s good news!

Just like Auteur’s stake, the so called storytelling rules are hammered just a few inches into the ground. Need proof? Think about:

  • Twilight’s inactive protagonist. Bella doesn’t do much, does she? Yet raving fans loved Meyer’s story in print and on the screen.
  • Harry Potter’s abundance of choppy, short sentences. Rowling was ripped a new one for her distinct storytelling voice by publishers. Rowling had confidence, though, in her story. Her fans are happy she did.
  • Hunger Games starting with the dreaded waking scene. O.M. flippin’ G. What the hell was Suzanne Collins thinking? Everyone knows you never ever start a story that way! You know what she was thinking? Collins was thinking she’d tell her story her way. I’m a fan and glad she stuck to her guns … or bow, as it were.
  • The Help written in phonetics. Yes, it was. Stockett told her story in first person present with lot’s o’ phonetics, jumping from character to character, too. Recipe for disaster? Sure, only if you think disaster includes a best seller picked up by Hollywood.

Oh the nerve of those storytellers breaking the cuff rules like that! Yet now every publisher and his dog are looking for books that are just like ’em. Yup! When a story comes along that breaks a major rule and that story is a hit, the rules change and kind of suddenly.


Modern writers aren’t the only ones who yanked the stake. It’s been used effectively for eons.

Oh yes, it’s true. In his time, William Shakespeare was dismissed and derided by the theater-running aristocracy. Shakespeare produced plays for the masses, for Pete’s sake! Instead of true craft that was worthy of a velvet draped stage, he used bawdy humor and recycled peasant folk tales.

Twain clearly didn’t understand the craft, either, because he used a brash, uneducated boy as the narrator for his stories. Worse, Twain wrote crude speech (phonetics, too) laced with low-class frontier humor in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. European literature ruled in the 1880s and so no publisher would touch the Huck Finn manuscript. Twain self-published it in 1884. Once it gained some pubilicity, then the publishers came snooping around.


Here is the super secret strategy for you to write like Twain, Meyers, Rowling, Collins, Stockett and any other breakout author: YANK THE DAMN STAKE. You are not confined to the storytelling circle prescribed by the trainers. There are absolutely no rules to telling an amazing story.

Wait. I take that back. There is one rule. ~~> Tell your story your way.

Did you like this post? Then like it! And share it! We need more bold writers in the world!

I want to hear from you. Add your wisdom in the comments below. What “rule” have you seen broken by a successful author? What did you think about it?