Mario and Me

Posted on May 12, 2016 by Robert Ringer


Mario Puzo, who passed away in 1999, wrote a number of bestselling novels, including The Godfather, Fools Die, and The Last Don. What I especially liked about Puzo was his legendary tongue-in-cheek interviews. One of my favorite Puzo comments was when he warned aspiring scriptwriters that the only way to get a fair deal in Hollywood was to go into the studio with a mask and gun.

I’ve always been amazed by how many of Puzo’s rules apply not only to writing, but to life in general. In that vein, following are five of my most favorite Puzo rules that I believe you will find applicable to our own life.


Puzo Rule No. 1: “Never show your stuff to anybody. You can get inhibited.”

Anyone involved in writing — whether it be fiction, nonfiction, or copywriting — should take this advice seriously. The most dynamic writing is from the heart. I’ve always felt that one of the biggest reasons for the success of my first two books was that I was completely uninhibited in writing about my mistakes and shortcomings in a way that made it easy for the reader to relate to me.

Nevertheless, on those few occasions when I made the mistake of showing my manuscript to others, they often suggested that I should remove material which they felt was too autobiographical or too blunt. Fortunately, I listened only to my own inner voice and didn’t change a thing, so when both books became New York Times #1 bestsellers I felt vindicated.

The moral is, be careful about who you show your work to, no matter what business you’re in, because when you become inhibited, your creativity and genius become suffocated in the process.


Puzo Rule No. 2: “Rewriting is the whole secret to writing.”

Actually, I first learned this secret from Ayn Rand, who said there’s no such thing as writing; there’s only rewriting. I’ve based my whole career on this principle.

I once asked an elderly friend of mine, who was a top-flight TV sitcom producer, if it was difficult to write a joke. He replied, “It’s no more difficult than writing a postcard, and writing a postcard is easy … but to write a good postcard is hard.”

I thought about my friend’s comment years later when someone said to me, “It must be nice to be able to just knock out a book any time you feel like working and get paid a million bucks.” Whereupon I asked what made him think I could “knock out” a book quickly.

He responded, “Because your books are so easy to read that it’s obvious you don’t put a lot of time into them.” Fortunately, I was able to control my emotions by reminding myself that capital punishment existed in my state. So, in lieu of going the homicide route, I smiled and said, “I guess you’re right. I’m lucky I have such an easy job.” I then calmly walked away.

The fact is that all quality products — not just books — are easy for the consumer for only one reason: The people who create them put an enormous amount of work into making them easy. In my case, I do about twenty-five drafts of every book I write. And the main purpose of doing all those rewrites is to make it as clear and easy as possible for the reader to understand what I’m saying.

Perhaps advertising pioneer Claude Hopkins put it best when he said, “Genius is the art of taking pains.” Repetition, polishing, relentlessly striving to make your product the best it can be is what lifts you above the competition.


Puzo Rule No. 3: “Never sell your book to the movies until after it is published.”

Though I’ve never sold any of my books to a film company, I’ve employed the essence of this strategy for more than three decades. For example, I’ve found that it’s also a mistake — at least for a first-time author — to try to make a publishing deal on the basis of an outline. And it’s just as true in any other industry when it comes to making a deal on the basis of a business plan (which is the equivalent of an outline) alone.

Why? Because people either can’t, or won’t, stretch their imaginations enough to share your vision. That being the case, be sure to have something more concrete than just a proposal to show the other party if you’re trying to raise money or make a deal of one kind or another — regardless of what business you’re in.

I attribute much of my early success as an author to the fact that I not only completed a book before showing it to a paperback publisher, I first marketed the hardcover edition into becoming a bestseller. Then, once the hardcover was a success, it put me in a position to be able to command a big advance from a paperback publisher.


Puzo Rule No. 4: “Never let a domestic quarrel ruin a day’s writing. If you can’t start the next day fresh, get rid of your wife.”

Vintage Puzo — tongue-in-cheek, but good advice. A spouse who continually berates you for pursuing your dreams is a classic example of someone close to you who can derail your best-laid plans.

It still amazes me how many letters I’ve received over the years from people who have told me they parted ways with a spouse or domestic partner after reading one of my books — which almost always resulted in a better life for them. This used to make me feel uncomfortable, but after rechecking my premises I began to feel good about the fact that I had helped so many people find happier, more fulfilling lives.

Unlike Puzo, for the sake of political correctness, I have used the word spouse in this article rather than wife. As a matter of fact, most of the letters I’ve received from people who made the decision to part ways with their spouses or partners as a result of something I’ve written have been from women.


Puzo Rule No. 5: “Never trust anybody but yourself. That includes critics, friends, and especially publishers.”

This rule is closely related to Rule No. 1, but it goes beyond the problem of inhibition. It gets at the very heart of creating work that represents your own skills and beliefs rather than what someone else thinks your work should be.

When it comes to writing, the late essayist E.B. White summed it up perfectly when he said, “The whole duty of a writer is to please and satisfy himself, and the true writer always plays to an audience of one.”

I can tell you from a lot of firsthand experience that he was right. Avoid so-called experts like the plague. To paraphrase Viktor Frankl, an expert is nothing more than a person who no longer sees the forest of truth for the trees of facts.

It’s amazing how easily many would-be authors are influenced by the input of their friends and associates. If you don’t have enough confidence in your own writing — or whatever it is you do for a living — to follow your own instincts, you probably should consider changing professions.

Trust me, you can’t go wrong following Mario Puzo’s advice. If you don’t believe me, just ask Don Corleone.

Robert Ringer

Robert Ringer is an American icon whose unique insights into life have helped millions of readers worldwide. He is also the author of two New York Times #1 bestselling books, both of which have been listed by The New York Times among the 15 best-selling motivational books of all time.

20 responses to “Mario and Me”

  1. larajf says:

    Good advice as always. I need to remind myself that I know what I should be doing and therefore should just do it and ignore the outside voices…even if it's the negative ones in my own head.

  2. Excellent article. After having read your books in the 1970's, I have always tried to follow your advice and wisdom. When I failed to do so, things would inevitably go wrong. Most important is Rule #5 and is critical for anyone who wants to truly succeed in life.

  3. Gary Waltrip says:

    Robert, you make a very important point: the goal of rewriting is to make your article easy to read and understand. The harder the reader has to work to understand it, the less likely he will be to continue reading. Someone once said "Write to express, not to impress." I've read all of your books, and loved them. They are an adventure of the mind, a journey of discovery. Also, of hope: that the common man can achieve much, in a hostile world, by applying certain principles to his life, his thinking, his goals and his efforts. Your icon the tortoise represents all of this. For me, your writing is a feast for my soul. Thanks for that.

  4. mikep3796 says:

    How true about making it seem easy and the no spousal encouragement. I got the same thing from my father who was a mill worker: "Aw, he's not doin' nothin'." So I quit and did not amount to anything. ADD probably had a lot to do with it as did being an only child and having to take care of my parents by myself. George Herter knew Hemingway and thought he didn't kill himself intentionally but dropped the shotgun as he was preparing to clean it. He knew how much he had the shakes. It took a lot of effort to write "For Whom the Bell Tolls" at a fourth-grade level.

  5. Michael Von Irvin says:

    Okay, I have to admit that I have written a few books on Amazon, but I am terrible about going back and rewriting. And I hate editors because they tend to take the life (conversational tone) out of writing. I have even had clients murder sales copy that I wrote for them by letting their secretary proof it. Of course the problem with not rewriting is that sometimes you may have said that Johnny bit the dog when you really meant that the dog bit Johnny.

    On a separate note, at the precise moment that I received this post from Robert, I was oddly enough sitting at work reading "Action" by Robert Ringer for about the 10th time. This work branches out in to more of a mystical notion about the universe and how action plays a part in your outcomes. I also believe this and was sort of freaked out that I was reading the book when the email from Robert popped up. Of course I do subscribe to his newsletter, but the even odder happenstance was that it came at exactly 3:11. Eleven is my lucky and favorite number. I am sure it is just a coincidence, but I love it when we get these little special lucky moments in life.

    • 11. Yes, the first Master Number in Numerology, all about Idealism and more. Add the numbers of your date of birth and reduce to a single digit except in the case(s) of the two Master Numbers, 11 and 22. I am a 2/11 by adding the numbers two ways. And born on the 7th day, of course I love intellect, learning, writing and all related. We are born with built-in codes to who and what we are. Numerology points the way. (one of many ways).

  6. Excellent article.

  7. Because I was and am a "born writer", I absolutely love this writing! Yes to all. My favorite quote is "Writing is revision". Frank Norris. And yes! EB White: "Once More to the Lake", "The Door", and others. And my other hero, Viktor Frankl! All about MEANING IN LIFE and his Big Book THE DOCTOR AND THE SOUL. Logotherapy. All the tenents you list are so very true! What a way to start my day! Thank you, Mr. Ringer.

  8. Rock Roach says:

    Hopefully after reading most of your books that I have developed a few "million dollar habits" ,and yes the Tortoise put everything in a language that all should be able to relate to.Thanks for all the insights and interesting reads on your website.And of course after 55 years,I have realized that being really good at something is usually
    related to the amount of QUALITY effort.

  9. When well-developed as a writer, we operate on two levels simultaneously. First, we are the writer-creator deciding what to write next and next and next. But, simultaneously, there is or ought to be the watcher/observer/critic deciding about our first level material as it comes in. Then, after a first draft, we read as critic both for content and mechanics to include structure/written expression, but during that read, new content/material may come in also. Not easy to explain the levels of mind and how they operate in relation so each other, but what I've said points to the complelx process. Maybe. I hope.

  10. Jim Hallett says:

    A master at any craft has that unique ability to make what he or she does appear to be simple or effortless, when in fact, it requires much grueling work to make it appear that way. Your writing, Robert, is an example of such mastery, and in addition to the fact that I am an ideological anarcho-libertarian (as you), so find support in many of your ideas, I also like the fact that you remind us of the often disappearing common sense and simple virtues which are the bedrock of a successful life. Thanks for another great share!

  11. RealitySeeker says:

    The difference between a good writer, a great writer and legendary one is how many legendary works the writer himself has read and grokked.. For example, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Voltaire, Denis Diderot, René Descartes, Immanuel Kant, David Hume and Montesquieu — especially, Montesquieu — all influenced the Founding Fathers, who, in turn, influence us right on down to this day.

    There were, in fact, many brilliant authors who deliberately wrote some of their best masterpieces esoterically. That is, perhaps, another subject for another day. But it leads me to my point.

    Reality Seeker's Rule # 1: Read, read, read and reread as many legendary works as you can. If you're short on time, then focus on legendary quotes.

    "Man will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest." `~~ Denis Diderot

    • Excellent quote! That's one I never read. So much can be said in a short space when the writer is also a "thinker". And that is also why poetry, the good and authentic poetry, exists. "Brevity is the soul of wit", if I remember that quote right.

  12. Tom says:

    Waiting for the approval of someone else before pursuing a dream is emotional suicide.

  13. mac carson says:

    Vince Youmans only wrote about 100 songs because he hated to let go and kept rewriting them. He wanted his songs to sound as if anyone could have written them. Listen to " Tea For Two" and you will see what I mean.

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