10 Rules for Writing with Humility & Dedication

I wrote these rules as reminders for myself during the long, arduous process of writing a novel, but I believe they apply to all types of writing and can help any aspiring writer focus on what truly matters.

  1. Don’t romanticize your own suffering/genius/whatever. You’re just putting words on paper. Don’t worry about it. Just do it. When you are worried about it, write anyway.
  2. Don’t expect the world to conform to the expectations of your ego. You are not inherently entitled to recognition. You have to earn it. The world is full of people not unlike you, and they all want to do well for themselves, too. Reality is a product of realistic, complex circumstances, not our invented ideals. Sure, the folks most deserving of recognition don’t always get it, but you can’t win if you don’t play, and the longer you keep at it, the greater your odds. Sustained, long term dedication wins.
  3. A sense of entitlement also makes you an asshole. Don’t be an asshole.
  4. Reading, participating in writers’ groups & workshops, reading books about writing, studying vocabulary, playing around with words and sentences, et cetera are all fantastic cross-training activities; they are healthy adjuncts, but not a replacement for the thing itself. They are to writing a novel as weight-lifting is to running a marathon.
  5. Hoping-to-be-overheard-in-coffeeshops-by-talking-at-excessive-volume-about-your-brilliant-novel-in-progress is to writing as jerking off a shake-weight is to running a marathon.
  6. There is no practice but to practice. This goes for everything. Every action in life is a self-reinforcing refinement of a given skill, based in perpetual development the neural pathways relevant to that skill. For every hour you put in writing, you’re giving your synapses a workout in writing-specific skills. For every hour you spend worrying or procrastinating, you’re training your brain to worry and procrastinate. Be kind to your brain. Train it to enable you to live the life you want to live.
  7. Also, for every hour you work, you are an hour closer to finishing your project, regardless of whether you loved or hated your performance.
  8. During the time you’re writing, remember to be present for the innate joy and gratitude of having the opportunity to write. When you finish, feel good about yourself for having worked. If you cannot find this joy, it is likely because you have the wrong motivations. Adjust accordingly.
  9. You are not your own best reader. If other readers (whom you trust reasonably well) say a piece sucks, it does. If they say it’s good, it is. We often look for reasons to find fault with outside opinions in both directions, whether heralding our own unsung genius or leveling own insecurities to counteract any possible joy or praise another reader might conjure. Knock it off. You’re wrong on both counts.
  10. In a just world, renown would follow innovation, perspiration, authenticity, audacity, etc. Sometimes the world is just, sometimes it is not. Sometimes your definition of just is different from others’ definitions. Accept that, move on. Write anyway.