Lists of rules for writers abound, ranging from profound wisdom to statements of the obvious. I’ve gathered together some of my favourites here, plus a few inspiring quotes. When I start to doubt myself or just need a confidence boost, I turn to advice like this to get me moving again. I hope it helps you do the same…
“Writing a book is a tremendous experience. It pays off intellectually. It clarifies your thinking. It builds credibility. It is a living engine of marketing and idea spreading, working every day to deliver your message with authority. You should write one.” – Seth Godin
1. Writers write
Many people say they want to write a book but somehow never seem to get round to it. Don’t be one of those people. Write.
Writing is rewriting. If a sentence makes you cringe or squirm with embarrassment – fix it. Don’t let it go thinking it doesn’t matter. It does.
3. Kill your darlings
No matter how hard you work at your writing, it probably isn’t as good as you think it is.
4. Finish what you start
No matter what you have to do, get to the end. Don’t keep going over and over the same little bit trying to make it perfect or you’ll never finish.
5. Never show your first draft to anyone
First drafts are always shit. Always! Remember number 2 – Rewrite!
Read like crazy. Read anything and everything, and not just books you like. Bad books can inspire you to write because they motivate you to do better – but be careful not to let them influence your writing directly. Bad writing is infectious.
7. Write well
Writing a bad book is just as hard as writing a good one. So you may as well write a good book.
8. Experience life
Go outside, do stuff, make a mess, love, cry, rant and fight. It’s all grist for the mill and gives you something to write about.
“You have to love before you can be relentless.” – Jonathan Franzen
9. Get professional feedback
And listen to it. Make sure you take on board constructive criticism, but only if you believe it will improve your book.
10. Be your own best critic
Be discerning about who you listen to. Don’t believe what your family or friends say about your writing; they’re rarely objective, even if they think they are. Especially if they think they are.
“When people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.” – Neil Gaiman
Cut inessential words. Cut until there’s nothing left to cut without losing meaning.
12. Be professional
Study your craft, and practise. Remember number 1 – Writers write!
13. Call yourself a writer
This applies even if you’re not yet published. Calling yourself a writer encourages you to take yourself seriously, and eventually others will agree.
14. Be specific
And accurate with the facts. Do your research, but not too much. Resist the temptation to put all your research on the page.
15. Trust the reader
Never talk down to your readers or patronise them. Always assume they’re smarter than you.
16. Beware clichés
Don’t be lazy. Find a better, more original way of saying what you want to say.
17. Treat writing as a job
Write every day – even if it’s just a page. Make time for it. There’s no excuse for not doing it.
“Few are the great spirits who did not at one time or another write in jail, in exile, in the madhouse, or at the foot of the gallows.” – Erica Jong
18. Only bad writers think their work is good
Too much imagination can be a bad thing. Beware self-deception.
19. Accept the anxiety
Writing never gets easier. The anxiety is never going to go away. If you start to believe you know what you’re doing – you don’t. Remember number 18!
20. Have fun
If you enjoy what you write, so will your readers.
21. Don’t wait for inspiration
Put the words down on the page regardless of how you feel. Be disciplined. Remember number 1 – Writers write!
Care about what you write. Write about what needs to be said and only write when you have something to say. Have a story worth telling.
23. Forget the market
Don’t worry if your book will sell. Remember: nobody knows anything. Write the book you want to read.
“Write whatever way you like. Fiction is made of words on a page; reality is made of something else. It doesn’t matter how ‘real’ your story is, or how ‘made up’: what matters is its necessity.” – Anne Enright
24. Be persistent
Never give up. Writing well takes a long time. Getting published takes even longer.
25. Be lucky
26. Always carry a notebook
And a pen. You’ll think you can remember the brilliant idea you’ve just had, but you won’t.
“If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.” – Elmore Leonard
27. Forget about self-expression
Or working through your demons or writing as therapy. Writing is made to be read – by someone else. Tell them a story and get yourself out of the way.
28. Read your work aloud
If it doesn’t flow, fix it. When reading your work, it helps to imagine someone else wrote it.
29. Back everything up
On an external hard drive or memory stick. And print out a hard copy. Don’t rely on the cloud (or your memory).
30. Go for a walk
If you get stuck and don’t know what comes next, get up and walk around, do something else – but DON’T switch on the TV.
31. Stay offline
Don’t have Twitter or Facebook running in the background when you’re writing. Are you reading this instead of writing? Stop it!
32. Be honest
Tell the truth about life as best you can and as well as you can.
33. Enjoy solitude
If you can’t handle being alone for long periods, you’re not a writer. Or perhaps you could get a dog/cat/goldfish/imaginary friend.
“You’re on your own. Nobody is making you do this: you chose it, so don’t whine.” – Margaret Atwood
34. Send your work out
Don’t sit on it and leave it languishing in a drawer because you’re scared of rejection. Don’t be a literary coward. Strive to be fearless.
35. Believe in yourself
Don’t take any shit from anyone and don’t let the bastards get you down.
36. Get organised
Organise your life around your writing, if you can. If not, write whenever you can. Make time.
37. Don’t quit the day job
Lower your expectations. Most writers don’t earn a living from writing. Harsh, but true.
“Don’t romanticise your ‘vocation’. You can either write good sentences or you can’t. There is no ‘writer’s lifestyle’. All that matters is what you leave on the page.” – Zadie Smith
38. Feed your imagination
Trust the process and your creativity. Make space for inspiration in your life and it will feed into your writing.
39. Push beyond your limitations
Stay away from your comfort zone. Being comfortable leads to mediocrity.
40. Be who you are
If anyone can stop you being a writer, you’re not a writer.
“Shut up and get on with it.” – Helen Simpson
What are your favourite rules for writers? Share your inspiration below…