1. Thou shalt not have strange genres before me.
Aspiring authors often tell me, “I don’t want to be typecast.” And I tell them, “You should be so lucky.” Sure, when you’re first starting out, you might have to write in a number of genres before you find your sweet spot—that is, where your talent meets the marketplace. Once you’ve found that sweet spot, stick to it, at least until you’ve consolidated your success.
Then you can pull a Nora Roberts and write in a new genre under a new name.
2. Thou shalt not take the name of your Muse in vain.
Do not curse your Muse, seduce her. Embrace her eccentricities, honor her timing and her tenacity. If she insists that you get up at 5am or check into a hotel or write your first draft in longhand, humor her.
Let your Muse guide you to the page—and keep you there until you reach The End.
3. Remember to keep holy your writing time.
Only you can ensure that you make the time in which to dream, dawdle, dictate, draft your way through your work-in-progress. No one else cares, and even if they did, it wouldn’t matter. You have to care enough—and be bold enough, to paraphrase Goethe—to begin, and keep on beginning until you finish once and for all.
It takes time.
4. Honor your teachers and editors and agents and readers.
Teachers see our potential and tell us we can do it. Editors help us take our work to the next level. Agents give us the lay of the publishing landscape, so we can sell our stories. Readers share the impact our work has on them, for better and for worse.
Listen, learn, and rewrite.
5. Thou shalt not kill your writing.
No matter how frustrated and angry you get, do not burn those pages or delete those files. Save everything, if only to remind yourself how far you’ve come as a writer. And don’t let anyone else kill your writing either. I once knew a guy whose girlfriend tore up the floppy disk (remember those days?) holding his work in a fit of rage. I told him, “Get yourself a new girlfriend.”
As artists, we need champions, not destroyers, in our lives. Starting with ourselves.
6. Thou shalt not be unfaithful to your writing.
Commit to your life as a writer. Treat the writer in you as you would a cherished lover. Be true and patient and compassionate. Your writing deserves the best of your time, your energy, your effort, your flights of fancy, and your depths of emotion.
Be a good writing partner—to yourself.
7. Thou shalt not plagiarize the work of your fellow writers.
“Mediocre writers borrow, good writers steal,” said T.S. Eliot. With the dawn of Wikipedia and the internet, plagiarism is more rampant than ever. So much so that publishers run manuscripts through software designed to catch plagiarism before they publish them. Plagiarism is not just wrong, it’s lazy.
Do the work. Dare to be original.
8. Thou shalt not bear false witness against your readers.
Tell the truth. Readers are looking for an authentic voice—and they know it when they see it. Write from your own true self—and they’ll love you for it. And then keep on telling the truth, story after story. As Oscar Wilde said, “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.”
Tell your truth your way.
9. Thou shalt not covet your fellow writer’s career.
In most every room you enter, there will almost always be someone smarter, richer, prettier, fitter, taller, more talented, and more successfully published than you. Or maybe they’re not more talented, but they’re still more successfully published, and that just eats you up. Don’t let it. Every writer you envy has done something right—even if it’s being in the right place at the right time.
Whenever you find your green-eyed monster rising up to make a snarky remark about a peer, stop and ask yourself what that writer has to teach you—about writing, about publishing, and about yourself.
10. Thou shalt not covet your fellow writer’s life.
You have only one life to live—and you’ve chosen to live it as a writer. Live it your way—and don’t worry about the lives of other writers. (See 9, above). Yes, they may be writing from their castle or their yacht or their penthouse apartment, but they still put their words down on paper one at a time, just like the rest of us.
Finally, let’s remember the Golden Rule: Thou shalt keep on writing. Forever and ever. Amen.