29 Famous Writers’ Writing Rules

Written by Emily Harstone | March 21, 2016

Most writers have their own special “rules for writing,” even if they don’t talk about them. Mine is to never write without having coffee first.

I find other writer’s rules fascinating, even when I don’t agree with them. A lot can be learned by reading about other authors’ approach to writing.

The New York Times and The Guardian have published famous authors answers to this question on a number of occasion. The Guardian has a very long, disorganized article that collects many of the rules, which you can read here. But this article is an attept to organize that collection and to link to other author’s rules as well.

Below are links to different author’s rules on writing. The authors are in particular order.

1. Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules

His most famous piece of advice? “If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it”.

2. George Orwell’s 6 Tips for Effective Writing

Orwell gives readers full permission to ignore his rules.

3. Nietzche’s 10 Rules for Writing

His rules were originally written down in a series of letters to a female psychoanalyst.

4. Neil Gaiman’s 8 Rules for Writing

It would be hard to dispute his first rule.

5. Jack Kerouac’s 30 Tips

He called his list “Belief and Technique for Modern Prose”.

6. Joyce Carol Oates 10 Rules for Writing

Oates originally released her rules as a series of tweets.

7. Geoff Dyer’s 10 Rules for Writing Fiction

His rule number six is one of my favorites “Have regrets. They are fuel. On the page they flare into desire.”

8. Jeanette Winterson’s 1o Rules for Writing Fiction

“Be ambitious for the work and not for the reward” is my favorite piece of advice from her.

9.Henry Miller’s 11 Commandments

His first commandment is “Work on one thing at a time until finished”.

10.Margret Atwood’s 10 Rules for Writing

Number 5 on her list is my favorite.

11.Roddy Doyle’s 10 Rules for Writers

His advice includes avoiding the online bookies.

12. Helen Dunmore’s 10 Rules for Writing Fiction

Among other helpful tips, she advocates listening to what you have written.

13. Anne Enright’s 10 Rules for Writing Fiction

Her number three is pretty controversial.

14. Johnathon Franzen’s 10 Rules for Writing Fiction

Contrary to his first piece of advice, I always feel like an adversary when I am reading his work.

15. 10 Writing Tips From David Hare

My favorite piece of advice from David Hare is “Style is the art of getting yourself out of the way, not putting yourself in it.”

16. 5 Rules for Writing Fiction from PD James

PD James believes, among other things, that bad writing is contagious.

17. Hillary Mantel’s 10 Observations About Writing Fiction

Hillary Mantel’s 10 Rules for Writing Fiction

Both lists are interesting, and are rather different from each other. One starts out focusing on the narrative, the other on accountants.

18.Michael Moorcock’s 10 Tips for Good Storytelling

This acclaimed Science Fiction writer has good advice for genre and non genre writers.

19. David Ogilvy’s 10 Tips

Ogilvy was an author (of business books) but he is much better known as a legendary ad man. His tips reflect that fact.

20. 6 Writing Tips from John Steinbeck

The Paris Review originally published these excellent tips.

21. Michael Morpergo’s 10 Rules for Writing Fiction

This poet and author’s rules are very helpful.

22. Andrew Motion’s 10 Rules for Writing Fiction

The former UK Poet Laureate’s list is very concise and to the point.

23. 5 Rules for Fiction Writing from Annie Proulx

Annie Proulx encourages wide reading.

24. Sarah Waters’s 10 Rules for Writing Fiction

Sarah Waters’s rules are the most detailed. She includes concrete information, like the fact that she has a goal of a 1,000 words a day minimum.

25. Ian Rankin’s 10 Rules for Writing Fiction

His last two rules are get lucky, stay lucky.

26. Will Self’s 10 Rules for Writing Fiction

Will Self’s first rule is one of my personal favorites.

27. Zadie Smith’s 10 Rules for Writing Fiction

Zadie Smith urges authors not to confuse honors with achievements.

28. Colm Tóibín 10 Rules for Writing Fiction

The Irish writer recommends that writers stay in their ‘mental pajamas’ all day

29. Joss Whedon’s 10 Writing Tips

This list is a little different as it focuses more on script writing then fiction writing, but the information is very helpful and concrete.