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Writing Advice: 16 Essential Rules

Instead of answering a reader question, I’m going to do something a little different this month.

The Guardian newspaper in London recently asked a whole bunch of writers for their ten rules of writing. They got 29 responses, with well-known and respected writers like Jonathan Franzen, Zadie Smith and Joyce Carole Oates amongst them. The compendium of all this information is a real treasure trove of useful writerly advice – I suggest you read the whole two-part article, here and here, as soon as you can. But for those of you who are a little pushed for time, I have pulled my favorite – and to my mind the most essential – of all the advice into the list below (English spelling left intact).

It was hard to cull these nuggets from so much wisdom, and my choices certainly reflect my proclivities as a reader – I couldn’t help but draw more heavily, perhaps, from those writers that I admire most. But this list also addresses the concerns that I see arising most in the writing students and coaching clients that I work with day after day. It’s amazing how many of the writers questioned by the Guardian had some version of “be persistent” on their lists, or how many of them suggested that you need to be careful about what criticism you listen to.

So, for better or worse, read on. Personally, I’m printing this list and sticking it up by my desk – and taking down that picture of Virginia Woolf while I’m at it.

1. The first 12 years are the worst. (Anne Enright)

2. Don’t give up. (Ian Rankin)

3. Turn up for work. Discipline allows creative freedom. No discipline equals no freedom. (Jeanette Winterson)

4. Work on a computer that is disconnected from the

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