10 Rules of Writing – and Life

Today I did what I said I would never do: I joined Twitter.

I guess that’s why we’re told “Never say never” – especially when it comes to the growing-faster-than-you-can-say-hashtag social media.

I may have given into Twitter, but I had no idea where to start, or who I should follow. I followed a few that came to mind first – Brad Paisley, Stephen Colbert, Starbucks, to name a few – but when I couldn’t think of any more, I turned to my trusted advisor of all-things Internet-related: Google.

The search led me to Maria Popova (@brainpicker) and the promise that she shares “random, interesting facts about creativity.” Random + interesting + creativity = I’m her newest follower. And I’m glad I am, as she delivered right away by posting a link to Zadie Smith’s 10 Rules of Writing. Zadie Smith is an author and professor at New York University, and while her list of rules are meant to be about writing, I couldn’t help but relate several of  them to life in general. Below is her list – with my added commentary and thoughts.

1. When still a child, make sure you read a lot of books. Spend more time doing this than anything else. True for children who will become writers, police officers, teachers, accountants, lawyers, doctors…or anything else. Books equal knowledge, and, as Sir Francis Bacon famously said, knowledge is power.

2. When an adult, try to read your own work as a stranger would read it, or even better, as an enemy would. Read my own work as an enemy would? That’s genius. Who else would as condemning as an enemy – someone who would look for reasons to criticize? My takeaway – make sure the work products with which you supply the world are organized, tactful and supported by truth.

3. Don’t romanticise your ‘vocation’. You can either write good sentences or you can’t. There is no ‘writer’s lifestyle’. All that matters is what you leave on the page.

4. Avoid your weaknesses. But do this without telling yourself that the things you can’t do aren’t worth doing. Don’t mask self-doubt with contempt. I have nothing else to add, except that I love this.

5. Leave a decent space of time between writing something and editing it. This translates well into a life rule – especially for things written at times of high emotions. Time calms us down and

6. Avoid cliques, gangs, groups. The presence of a crowd won’t make your writing any better than it is. And it won’t make people like you more. In fact, it will probably make them like you less. Adults do not respect cliques; the key to success among peers is inclusiveness.

7. Work on a computer that is disconnected from the ­internet. What?! How will I compulsively check my Facebook and email?! Distractions on the Internet are the Achilles heel of my productivity. Great advice.

8. Protect the time and space in which you write. Keep everybody away from it, even the people who are most important to you.

9. Don’t confuse honours with achievement. This one is my favorite, and probably the rule most difficult to follow.

10. Tell the truth through whichever veil comes to hand — but tell it. Resign yourself to the lifelong sadness that comes from never ­being satisfied.

Anyone else on Twitter? Follow me @TrueWhit2

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