Author Bob Hostetler

25 Rules for Writers

Yes, W. Somerset Maugham famously said, “There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.” But that hasn’t stopped many of the best and/or most famous writers in English from suggesting rules for both fiction and nonfiction. So here is a list of twenty-five of my favorite rules for writers, offered for your contemplation, consideration, and maybe even implementation:

  1. Develop craftsmanship through years of wide reading (Annie Proulx).
  2. If you want to be a writer you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot (Stephen King, On Writing).
  3. Read a lot, finding out what kind of writing turns you on, in order to develop a criterion for your own writing. And then trust it — and yourself (Rosemary Daniell).
  4. Dare to turn off the TV. After all, you are a creator, not a consumer (J. A. Patterson).
  5. Don’t be a “writer.” Be writing (William Faulkner).
  6. Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on (Louis L’Amour).
  7. Forget the books you want to write. Think only of the book you are writing (Henry Miller).
  8. Don’t write what you know, write toward what you want to know (Colum McCann, Letters to a Young Writer).
  9. You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children (Madeleine L’Engle).
  10. Read your written work out loud (Joanna Penn).
  11. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now (Annie Dillard).
  12. Get to the point. No throat clearing (Harold Evans).
  13. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip (Elmore Leonard).
  14. I would advise anyone who aspires to a writing career that before developing his talent he would be wise to develop a thick hide (Harper Lee).
  15. Do not use semicolons. All they do is show you’ve been to college (Kurt Vonnegut).
  16. Don’t be nervous. Work calmly, joyously, recklessly on whatever is in hand (Henry Miller).
  17. Everyone needs an editor (Tim Foote).
  18. Leave a decent space of time between writing something and editing it (Zadie Smith).
  19. In composing, as a general rule, run a pen through every other word you have written; you have no idea what vigor it will give your style (Sydney Smith).
  20. Kill the cliché (Janet Fitch).
  21. Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose (Elmore Leonard).
  22. Keep it accurate, keep it clear (Ezra Pound).
  23. Either write things worth reading, or do things worth the writing (Benjamin Franklin).
  24. It is perfectly okay to write garbage – as long as you edit brilliantly (C. J. Cherryh).
  25. The most valuable writing habit I have is not to answer questions about my writing habits (Christopher Morley).
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