Writing — The Magic 3-Point Rule

Rob Parnell
4 min readFeb 12, 2024

Whenever I get stuck, I invent a three-step rule to help me out. Using this discipline has helped me complete a dozen novels, fifty writing courses, and over three thousand articles in the last twenty years. Most of all, the practice has helped me stay sane. I recommend you do the same.

As a general example, if I find myself obsessing over the past or beating myself up over a mistake, I use this 3-stage mind shifter:

1. Stop
2. Now
3. Forward.

I find this helps me back to the present and keeps me focused on being real in the moment, instead of getting trapped by regret.

As far as the writing goes, the 3-pointer I use if I get stuck or stressed is this:

1. Relax
2. Review
3. Rework

I find this is a useful way to remind me the writing problems I face are often the same. Stressing doesn’t achieve anything. Sitting back and quietly reading what I have will help identify the issues, then reworking the text or the story, no matter how loathsome and dreadful, is generally the best way to fix things.

The three-point rule I use to begin a story is one I of my favorites.

1. Character
2. Agenda
3. Plot

This one is fairly self-explanatory but also very useful as a teaching aid as well as a writing technique.

Because once you have a character in mind, then the rest is easy. Try it. Think of a name, a type of person, their profession, gender, then invent the most important aspect, their agenda. What does your character want? What gets them moving through the text?

When you’re first trying to plot a story, keep the agenda simple. She wants to date someone, he wants to steal some money, they want to be accountants, or a killer.

Use the agenda to predict your character’s next move. Imagine them waking up in the morning and… doing what? Why? That’s the starting point for your story. Where do you go from here? Pretty soon you’re going to need an antagonist, someone who will try to thwart your hero’s agenda. Drama and conflict will begin to inevitably ensue.

The conflict between your characters’ agendas becomes the story, which you can then plot accordingly from obstacle to obstacle.

I use software like Scrivener’s cork-board function to create plot points.

Use a three-point system to create each plot turn:

1. Event
2. Consequence
3. Obstacle

Use about five to ten of these plot point “turns” for a short story and fiftyish for a novel.

The trick is not to get too precious. Your story will no doubt change as you write it anyway.

The most important rule of writing is to remain productive. Writing should always be your default activity.

The reality is that the odds are against you. 99% of would-be authors never make it. You have to force your mind to make quick decisions you stick to. You do this by training yourself by reinforcement. Habit. You need to write every day and know that you will not break the habit. After a while you will start to notice that a large proportion of what you do create is actually fine and the more you work at your editing your faith in your decisions grows stronger.

It’s just about practice. And learning to love what you create.

You might think that because you wrote at school then it’s a skill you haven’t lost. But I get messages from people all the time who realize that’s not the case. To my mind it’s just about strengthening old muscles. Regaining faith that your fiction abilities will get stronger. Positive reinforcement is needed to reacquire the skills you already possess. As kids we have no issue with making things up because that’s how we naturally play. Imagination begins with play, with the willingness to stretch a premise to prove something profound.

Use these three stages of positive reinforcement:

1. Practice
2. Believe
3. Persist

Invent three-stage technologies for yourself. Be on the lookout for ways to improve. Many of the blocked writers I know remain blocked for months, sometimes years at a time because they let habits take over. The more they think about their reasons to be blocked, the deeper those negative grooves get in the brain. You have to dismantle negative grooves by finding ways around your blocks.

First of all, there’s no such thing as writer’s block. You are either writing or you’re not.

A writer writes by definition. If you’re not writing, you’re not a writer, so stop beating yourself up and get on with your life. Do something else. Accept that perhaps writing isn’t your thing. Stop thinking about it, stop talking about it, find another avenue of expression.

My experience is blocks are not usually about the writing anyway. They’re about an imagined eventuality, or a possible result. Very often they’re about a plot that won’t work because you’ve written yourself into a corner — realizing that a lot more work and editing or deletion is necessary, and it’s the feelings associated with these issues that cause the blocks.
Again, the way out is to teach yourself to enjoy writing.

1. Practice
2. Practice
3. Practice.

The ultimate three-step fixer.

Keep Writing!

Rob Parnell’s Writing Academy

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Rob Parnell

Bestselling Author and Owner of Rob Parnell’s Writing Academy