Written by Emily Harstone
Most writers have their own special “rules for writing,” even if they don’t talk about them. Mine is to never write without having coffee first.
I find other writer’s rules fascinating, even when I don’t agree with them. A lot can be learned by reading about other authors’ approach to writing.
The New York Times and The Guardian have published famous authors answers to this question on a number of occasion. The Guardian has a very long, disorganized article that collects many of the rules, which you can read here. But this article is an attept to organize that collection and to link to other author’s rules as well.
Below are links to different author’s rules on writing. The authors are in particular order.
His most famous piece of advice? “If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it”.
Orwell gives readers full permission to ignore his rules.
His rules were originally written down in a series of letters to a female psychoanalyst.
It would be hard to dispute his first rule.
He called his list “Belief and Technique for Modern Prose”.
Oates originally released her rules as a series of tweets.
His rule number six is one of my favorites “Have regrets. They are fuel. On the page they flare into desire.”
“Be ambitious for the work and not for the reward” is my favorite piece of advice from her.
His first commandment is “Work on one thing at a time until finished”.
Number 5 on her list is my favorite.
His advice includes avoiding the online bookies.
Among other helpful tips, she advocates listening to what you have written.
Her number three is pretty controversial.
Contrary to his first piece of advice, I always feel like an adversary when I am reading his work.
My favorite piece of advice from David Hare is “Style is the art of getting yourself out of the way, not putting yourself in it.”
PD James believes, among other things, that bad writing is contagious.
Both lists are interesting, and are rather different from each other. One starts out focusing on the narrative, the other on accountants.
This acclaimed Science Fiction writer has good advice for genre and non genre writers.
Ogilvy was an author (of business books) but he is much better known as a legendary ad man. His tips reflect that fact.
The Paris Review originally published these excellent tips.
This poet and author’s rules are very helpful.
The former UK Poet Laureate’s list is very concise and to the point.
Annie Proulx encourages wide reading.
Sarah Waters’s rules are the most detailed. She includes concrete information, like the fact that she has a goal of a 1,000 words a day minimum.
His last two rules are get lucky, stay lucky.
Will Self’s first rule is one of my personal favorites.
Zadie Smith urges authors not to confuse honors with achievements.
The Irish writer recommends that writers stay in their ‘mental pajamas’ all day
This list is a little different as it focuses more on script writing then fiction writing, but the information is very helpful and concrete.