Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing Never open a book with weather. If it’s only to create atmosphere, and not a character’s reaction to the weather, you don’t want to go on too long. The reader is apt to leaf ahead looking for people. There are exceptions. Avoid prologues. They can be annoying, especially a prologue following an introduction that comes after a foreword. There is a prologue in John Steinbeck’s Sweet Thursday, but it’s O.K. because a character in the book makes the point of what my rules are all about. Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue. The line of dialogue belongs to the character; the verb is the writer sticking his nose in. Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said” … …he admonished gravely. Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose. Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose.” This rule doesn’t require an explanation. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
Six Tips on Writing from John Steinbeck By Maria Popova If this is indeed the year of reading more and writing better, we’ve been right on course with David Ogilvy’s 10 no-nonsense tips, Henry Miller’s 11 commandments, and various invaluable advice from other great writers. Now comes Pulitzer Prize winner and Nobel laureate John Steinbeck (February 27, 1902–December 20, 1968) with six tips on writing, originally set down in a 1962 letter to the actor and writer Robert Wallsten included in Steinbeck: A Life in Letters (public library) — the same magnificent volume that gave us Steinbeck’s advice on falling in love. Steinbeck counsels: Abandon the idea that you are ever going to finish. But perhaps most paradoxically yet poetically, twelve years prior — in 1963, immediately after receiving the Nobel Prize in Literature “for his realistic and imaginative writings, combining as they do sympathetic humour and keen social perception” — Steinbeck issued a thoughtful disclaimer to all such advice: ↬ Open Culture
Henry Miller’s 11 Commandments of Writing & Daily Creative Routine After David Ogilvy’s wildly popular 10 tips on writing and a selection of advice from modernity’s greatest writers, here comes some from the prolific writer and painter Henry Miller (December 26, 1891–June 7, 1980) COMMANDMENTSWork on one thing at a time until finished.Start no more new books, add no more new material to ‘Black Spring.’Don’t be nervous. Work calmly, joyously, recklessly on whatever is in hand.Work according to Program and not according to mood. Stop at the appointed time!When you can’t create you can work.Cement a little every day, rather than add new fertilizers.Keep human! Under a part titled Daily Program, his routine also featured the following wonderful blueprint for productivity, inspiration, and mental health: MORNINGS: If groggy, type notes and allocate, as stimulus.If in fine fettle, write.AFTERNOONS:Work of section in hand, following plan of section scrupulously. HT Lists of Note
Neil Gaiman’s 8 Rules of Writing By Maria Popova In the winter of 2010, inspired by Elmore Leonard’s 10 rules of writing published in The New York Times nearly a decade earlier, The Guardian reached out to some of today’s most celebrated authors and asked them to each offer his or her commandments. After Zadie Smith’s 10 rules of writing, here come 8 from the one and only Neil Gaiman: WritePut one word after another. Find the right word, put it down.Finish what you’re writing. For more timeless wisdom on writing, see Kurt Vonnegut’s 8 rules for a great story, David Ogilvy’s 10 no-bullshit tips, Henry Miller’s 11 commandments, Jack Kerouac’s 30 beliefs and techniques, John Steinbeck’s 6 pointers, and Susan Sontag’s synthesized learnings. Image by Kimberly Butler