Ten Commandments for Writing


  1. Read. You can’t write if you don’t read. Read books from your favourite genre. Read books that friends recommend. Read books critically. Read books that friends say they’ve loved. Work out why those books were so well-loved. Read books that friends have hated. Work out what went wrong in those books. Read outside your comfort zone and critically analyse what you enjoy and what you don’t enjoy. Above all: read.
  2. Write. Write every day. Cut out time-consuming habits that could interfere with your writing. Do you really need to watch those soaps? Can you spare half an hour before going to bed on an evening? Find time to write whenever possible. Even if it’s only ten minutes writing, it’s time enough to get an idea down that might otherwise be lost. If you don’t have access to a PC or laptop, write with a pen and paper.
  3. Plot. Repeatedly ask the question: what if…? Don’t just ask the question but answer it. What if… a writer falls in love with someone who doesn’t read books? What do they talk about? Is there any hope for the relationship? How do they overcome this obvious divide between them? What if… a daily horoscope is unerringly accurate ever day for a week? How soon would a character notice this? Could it be used to the character’s advantage? Would that impact on the accuracy of the horoscope?
  4. Write Poetry. I know this could be considered the same as writing, but poetry requires a different approach to writing fiction. In poetry every word counts. Don’t necessarily concentrate on form. Concentrate on capturing a moment with a haiku. Concentrate on specifying a mood or a description with a brief burst of blank verse. Don’t worry if the poetry isn’t publishable. Focus only on expressing your thoughts with perfect clarity.
  5. Look. Watch people. Watch how they interact. Watch their body language – or lack of it. Note colours. I live in a part of the world that has the most remarkable sunsets. A Blackpool sunset can include peach, salmon, lemon, gold, orange and silver. Observe similar features in your own area and include them in your fiction. Don’t be satisfied with saying the sky is blue. Look at the true colour and decide whether it’s denim, cornflower, sapphire, turquoise, aquamarine or cerulean.
  6. Listen. Listen to people talking. Listen to how they speak as well as what they say. Obviously, ambiguous comments could inspire ideas for an entire plot: I told him it was either me or the leg… But listen to HOW people speak. Listen to the cadence in different voices and the way the same words can sound so different when there’s an inflection of emotion colouring their delivery.
  7. Rewrite. No one writes a novel, poem or short story. They rewrite it. First drafts are wonderful. Completing a first draft is an accomplishment that few people make. But first drafts need to be read and re-read; revised and edited; polished and perfected. Rewrite to make sure the pace is correct. Rewrite to make sure character voice is consistent. Rewrite to make sure the reading is a pleasurable experience for the reader. Rewrite to make sure the story you wanted to tell is the one you are telling.
  8. Push yourself to improve – but don’t be too hard on yourself. Identify your strengths and your weakness. Resolve to improve the strengths. Resolve to eradicate weaknesses. Never take a rejection personally: most of them aren’t personal. And never stop believing in your own ability.
  9. Avoid clichés. Avoid them like the plague. They’re old hat. You shouldn’t touch them with a ten foot barge pole. Avoid clichéd language. Avoid clichéd rhymes. Avoid clichéd plot lines. Avoid clichéd characters. Your readers want to be excited by new ideas – don’t disappoint them.
  10. Enjoy your writing. Writing is not easy. And there will be days when you can’t face the page and the words just aren’t coming. These are things that happen to all writers. But it should remain something you enjoy doing and want to continue. Whether it’s a fiction or poetry, the achievement of putting words on paper should give you a sense of satisfaction.

Ashley Lister
August 2010

“The Write Stuff” © 2010 Ashley Lister. All rights reserved.

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