107 Ironclad Rules for Writers Who Want to Be Better at Writing

ed. note: I posted this on my old blog a few years ago, and it was, by far, the most popular thing I've ever written online. It was lost when I overhauled the site, so I'm re-posting it belowAll advice is 100% serious and legally binding. 

1. Write every day. Except on days when you don’t feel like writing that much and you don’t have anything interesting to say.

2. Never write when you’re too hot. Beads of sweat are ideas leaking from your brain.

3. Nobody really eats turnips. They are a ridiculous food. Characters cannot eat turnips.

4. Hypnosis is the writer’s greatest tool.

5. Skinny people are often the cause of conflict. Fat people are often the solution. NO MEDIUM SIZED PEOPLE.

6. If you must write about the travails of being a writer, at least give yourself a glass eye or a cyborg hand or something.

7. After your second draft, read backwards, from last page to first. If it doesn’t make sense both forward and backward, you’ve done something wrong.

8. Always describe the smell of your protagonist’s hands.

9. Fathers and sons do not speak to each other unless one of them has lost a limb and needs help finding that limb.

10. There is no evidence that people have gills, but there is no evidence that people cannot have gills.

11. For photosynthetic purposes, it is essential that you spend time writing in the outdoors.

12. 3rd person narration, like gladiator duels, is a barbaric invention of the ancient Greeks and should never be used under any circumstances.

13. Using multiple questions marks or a question/exclamation combo makes you look an actual crazy person.

14. Wear non-restrictive clothing that will allow the ideas to flow freely around you. Tunics are good, and cheap.

15. Chronological order is the only structure the human mind has evolved to understand.

16. If at all possible, get your characters to a place without gravity.

17. Cicadas are the most symbolic and underutilized creatures in literature.

18. A sex scene only works if it’s written in precise, clinical detail.

19. More fucking profanity.

20. Always know what size shoes your characters wear. The soul is in the shoes.

21. Most people don’t understand math anyway.

22. At least one character must have a funny accent.

23. Everyone moves clockwise. Counterclockwise is for anarchists

24. No lefthanded characters. Too weird.

25. For every adverb you use, do five pushups.

26. Y is an indecisive letter; using it implies indecision.

27. Children are interesting from ages 0-2 and the not again until they’re 14.

28. Just assume everyone has a weird fetish they’d like to keep secret.

29. A nursery rhyme: short chapters make everyone happier.

30. Start with the acknowledgments page, so that you always know who you’re disappointing on your bad writing days.

31. Include at least one scene in which someone meets an estranged sibling.

32. Characters use microwaves, not ovens. Ovens take too long

33. Highlight all the verbs and replace them with other better verbs

34. Writer’s block is best cured by swallowing a penny.

35. The hard C sound conveys authority. Do not soften yourself.

36. In dialogue, include all the ‘um’s but cut the ‘uh’s

37. Conjunctions, conjunction, conjunctions!

38. Remember, every surface your characters touch is just covered with deadly microbes.

39. Mercury poisoning is great for providing plot twists.

40. Do not have more than two redheaded characters, or people will think you’re up to something.

41. Make sure the plot isn’t lifted from a Nancy Drew book.

42. If an editor gives you advice, do the opposite.

43. Buy a lot of index cards.

44. Every day, pick an unusual adjective from the dictionary and be sure to use it.

45. Your literary heroes were probably terrible people. Be more like them.

46. No boats. Boats are over.

47. No airplanes either. Nothing interesting happens on airplanes anymore.

48. The only reliable way to begin a scene is with an alarm clock going off.

49. If you’re stuck, introduce a blimp. Blimps expedite plot.

50. No lightning. It’s cliche.

51. There is always a ghost in the attic.

52. Twins are interesting.

53. At the zoo, it’s easy for people to fall over fences.

54. Present tense is for junkies and teenagers.

55. It’s easy to distinguish characters if each has a unique hat.

56. Italics makes words sound fancy.

57. Shoot for a minimum of two metaphors per page.

58. If you haven’t introduced the gun by page 50, introduce it on page 51.

59. Diners and bars are the setting for about 80% of all human conversations

60. What does a gerund do? It does nothing.

61. In dialogue, everyone should always be lying.

62. Elevators are the crucible of our social lives.

63. Readers want to know where your character bought his car, what his monthly payment is, what kind of rate he got.

64. Your character may not be a caterer. There are more caterers in movies and novels than there have been throughout the history of the world.

65. See what you can do with SONAR.

66. Time your writing schedule to coincide with the different phases of the moon.

67. Spend two decades traveling before you write a single word.

68. If, in the history of language, anyone has written a sentence like the one you’ve just written, delete that sentence and start over.

69. Most metaphors don’t have to make sense; they just need to be memorable.

70. Rain is always meaningful.

71. Linoleum floors are much less interesting than quicksand.

72. The stars can be beautiful without forcing themselves upon you. The same should apply to your writing.

73. Shakespeare did it first. You can do it second.

74. You haven’t truly made it until you’ve received a threatening email from a stranger.

75. Write as if you’ve been possessed by a demon, but, like, a nice demon.

76. Record a video of yourself sleeping at night, so you know what it looks like when you’re at your most vulnerable.

77. Most people want you to fail. Never forget this.

78. At least 25% of any book should be flashbacks.

79. Never kill a dog in your book. The dogs will know.

80. The best food to eat to stimulate your writing process is a charcuterie tray. D.H. Lawrence ate nothing but cured meats.

81. Writing is 30% perspiration, 40% inspiration, 40% good luck, 50% magic, and 1% mathematics.

82.Every sex act must result in a pregnancy.

83. Repetition is the sign of an unfit mind. If possible, never employ repetition of words or phrases, lest you seem to have an unfit mind.

84. The internet is not going away; your characters should frequently interact via email and hacking. Lots of hacking.

85. Only employ vampires if they are a metaphor for municipal government.

86. Dialect should be heavy and consistent. It is important to know whether someone is from the South, or Eurasia.

87. Leave a few blank pages at the end of your final chapter and encourage the reader to conclude it the way he or she would like.

88. One of the most important choices you will face is deciding which font to use.

89. Spill every secret you know; you can’t save them for the afterlife.

90. Write a minimum of twelve drafts. Then put the manuscript in a safe deposit box for one full year before reading it again.

91. Think about all the cool things you can do with UFOs.

92. Set the scene. A minimum of seven sentences of setting description before even mentioning a character.

93. Readers like mystery. Try to reveal as little as possible during the first two chapters.

94. Characters in neckties are boring. Characters who poach rhinos for a living are not.

95.   Every line of dialogue should be performing a minimum of five functions.

96. In your final draft, cut the last line of every paragraph, no matter what.

97. When something is REALLY IMPORTANT, put it in CAPS. It’s the only way for some readers to know.

98. A well-placed illustration can save you the trouble of writing a thousand words.

99. Writing a book is fundamentally a political act. This means at least one character must be given the opportunity to make a political speech of no fewer than 6 pages.

100. Magical realism is a term invented by occultists.

101. Write to displease whatever god you believe in.

102.Believe in monsters.

103. Contractions are a crutch for writers too lazy to type the whole word, but also crutches can be really useful, like if you have a broken leg, for example.

104. Write about the thing you love the most, and destroy it.

105. DO NOT READ other novels while writing. You don’t want to taint your vision.

106. Cut all human ties until you have finished your book. Friends are leeches, family are anchors.

107. The human body has 206 bones and 642 muscles. These are naturally perfect numbers: 206 words per page, 642 syllables per page. Every page.