My rules for writers

A couple of days ago, I stumbled upon Zadie Smith’s Rules for Writers, and, coupled with a conversation I had on Twitter last night, I thought I’d give my own list a go.

For those of you still new to me, here are my credentials: I’ve been seriously writing for publication since I was about fifteen (which is 27 years and pre-internet!), have received at least 300 rejections, had two major writing breaks, and suffer writers block every time I finish a project.

4-book-web-site-picI’ve also had 12 short stories published in small press journals; 19 short stories long-listed, short-listed and placed 3rd, 2nd or 1st in competitions; and three books published by small/indie publishers and one book self-published.

  1. Don’t aspire be the next [insert best-selling author in your genre], be the first you. By the time you’ve read that author’s latest book, and been inspired to write something similar, the industry has moved on to the next big thing. Don’t you want to lead rather than follow?
  2. Don’t expect your first draft to be perfect. Most books go through at least several drafts before they are published. Mine go through many
  3. Don’t be afraid of rejection. I wrote a post about that…
  4. Read, a lot – in your genre, outside of your genre, non-fiction
  5. Don’t force yourself to write if you don’t feel like it. I’ve read a lot of advice that says you should write every day, but it doesn’t work for me, so I don’t do it
  6. In fact, ignore any advice you don’t think will work for you
  7. Know the rules of good grammar, and then break them, if it works in your story
  8. Know the rules of submission etiquette and stick to them. Agents and editors have a preference, for their ease, on how they want to be approached. Don’t give them a reason to reject you before they’ve even read your manuscript. Janet Reid has a lot of advice. Personally, I learnt from Writing Magazine.
  9. Take regular breaks, preferably outside. You don’t want to look pasty in your promotional material
  10. Don’t give up if things don’t go exactly to plan. Think of plans more as a guideline.

Bonus tip: Enjoy it. If you don’t enjoy writing, if it causes you misery or heartache or depression more than it brings you joy, consider whether it’s really the path you want to take.


What would you add to this list?


23 thoughts on “My rules for writers

  1. Hi Annalisa – excellent list – just write and keep trying … lots of different ways to write too – especially now – lots of opportunities, but on the other hand lots of places to fail. Perhaps write about your locality … something you know about and then you can promote those stories around the town, county etc … and definitely as you say – enjoy what you’re doing – cheers Hilary


  2. Would I like to be a published author? I don’t know. I write up to five short stories a day, between 100 and 250 words. A few I place on my blog, but most sit in my dusty desktop dungeon. The longest yarn I have written is about 4062 words.The Stranger it was called. I got bored writing it. I longed to change the subject. I’m at my happiest jumping from light to dark, stupid to sensible. As for grammar, I honestly believe that breaking rules can embellish the piece. Sadly, my online assistant, grumpy disagrees. She’s just tried to add a comma to my last sentence. We are like the loving couple that can’t stand each other. That was 117 words. Time to change genre!

    The Stranger


    1. Thank you for leaving that link, your story is fantastic. I’m so glad I read during the daytime!!

      If longer writing doesn’t appeal, there are so many opportunities for shorter fiction – competitions and online journals, which can pay quite well. I decided against Grammerly – although they tried their best to get me to buy it – because I’m sure I’d end up disagreeing too 🙂


  3. Indeed – your rules work well and are loose enough. I often wondered if I was a “bad” writer because I did not feel inspired daily. Outdoors does help a lot…..nothing like a tree branch or two to guide the way!


  4. Writing always gives me joy. It’s the submitting and marketing that make me want to cry.

    Excellent rules! I am really good at ignoring rules that I don’t feel like following.


  5. When it comes to writing I tend to ignore the ‘rules!’ Especially the write everyday one – it doesn’t work for me. I work best when I have a few uninterrupted hours to write so I can fully get in the zone. Adding a few lines before I dash off to work is unlikely to be very productive for me. Enjoying what you do is important too, again, sometimes hard to do when all you seem to get is knock-backs, but then the good things that happen spur you forward again. Oh the life of a writer!


    1. I think part of the trick is being able to separate the creative and business side of writing. The business side is always going to be less enjoyable – unless you’re one of those lucky writers who also studied marketing at college!


  6. Haha I had to laugh about looking pasty in the promotional materials. I have such pale skin I could be mistaken for a corpse so that is always a problem for me. 😀


  7. Number 6 is my favorite. Too often I think we push ourselves to take advice that just doesn’t work for us. I try to write every weekday, but I definitely take a day off if I feel like I need it.


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