40 Rules for Writers

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…

Don't wait for inspiration

“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.

2. Rewrite

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!

6. Read

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

11. Edit

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!

22. Care

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

Enough said.

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…

More: Resources & Links for Writers


  1. Great advice and inspiration Jessica. Writing makes us vunerable and that often takes us out of our comfort zone and into our fears and worrying what others think.

    When we write from our hearts and truth we can feel confident that our words will inspire and be heard and stepping out into unknown is part of that journey.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yes, it’s scary to step outside your comfort zone because it’s a leap into the unknown. If I worry too much what others will think about my writing, I struggle to make sense. But if I focus on telling the truth, the writing flows more easily. It still might not make sense (!) but that’s ok. Sometimes I need to just write to find out what I think.

      Liked by 1 person

Comments are closed.