The Ten (Plus Four) Commandments (of Writing)


1. “The one great rule of composition is to speak the truth.” — Henry David Thoreau

2. “If you require a practical rule of me, I will present you with this: Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it–wholeheartedly–and delete it before sending your manuscript to press. Murder your darlings.” — Arthur Quiller-Couch

3. “The best rule for writing–as well as for speaking—is to use always the simplest words that will accurately convey your thought.” — David Lambuth

4. “There are simple maxims . . . which I think might be commended to writers of expository prose. First: never use a long word if a short one will do. Second: if you want to make a statement with a great many qualifications, put some of the qualifications in separate sentences. Third: do not let the beginning of your sentence lead the readers to an expectation which is contradicted by the end.” — Bertrand Russell

5. “I have made three rules of writing for myself that are absolutes: Never take advice. Never show or discuss a work in progress. Never answer a critic.” — Raymond Chandler

6. “There are three rules for writing the novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.” — W. Somerset Maugham

7. “Writing has laws of perspective, of light and shade, just as painting does, or music. If you are born knowing them, fine. If not, learn them. Then rearrange the rules to suit yourself.” — Truman Capote

8. “There is probably some long-standing “rule” among writers, journalists, and other word-mongers that says: “When you start stealing from your own work you’re in bad trouble.” And it may be true.” — Hunter S. Thompson

9. “If I were to advise new writers, if I were to advise the new writer in myself, going into the theater of the Absurd, the almost-Absurd, the theater of Ideas, the any-kind-of-theater-at-all, I would advise like this:

  • Tell me no pointless jokes. I will laugh at your refusal to allow me laughter.
  • Build me no tension toward tears and refuse me my lamentations. I will go find me better wailing walls.
  • Do not clench my fists for me and hide the target. I might strike you, instead.
  • Above all, sicken me not unless you show me the way to the ship’s rail.”

Ray Bradbury

10. “Breslin’s Rule: Don’t trust a brilliant idea unless it survives the hangover.” — Jimmy Breslin

11. “One of the great rules of art: Do not linger.” — Andre Gide

12. “Do not pay any attention to the rules other people make…. They make them for their own protection, and to Hell with them.” — William Saroyan

13. “Over the years, I’ve found one rule. It is the only one I give on those occasions when I talk about writing. A simple rule. If you tell yourself you are going to be at your desk tomorrow, you are by that declaration asking your unconscious to prepare the material. You are, in effect, contracting to pick up such valuables at a given time. Count on me, you are saying to a few forces below: I will be there to write.” — Norman Mailer

14. “I’ll give you the sole secret of short-story writing, and here it is: Rule 1. Write stories that please yourself. There is no rule 2. The technical points you can get from Bliss Perry. If you can’t write a story that pleases yourself, you will never please the public. But in writing the story forget the public.” — O. Henry

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