10 Rules for Creative Writing

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10 Rules for Creative Writing

Rules stock photoWhen The Guardian asked bestselling authors to share their top dos and don’ts of the writing process, I drew upon experience to draft a similar list for students in my creative writing workshops. It came as little surprise that the truths that resonated with me emphasized process more so than any element of craft.

Perhaps this is because craft can be taught (via Top 10 lists, no less), whereas trust in and mastery of one’s process takes a lifetime of engagement and adjustment. And trust is one of the key elements that separates amateur from professional writers. As David Bayles and Ted Orland noted in Art & Fear, “Uncertainty is the essential, inevitable companion to your desire to make art. And tolerance for uncertainty is the prerequisite to succeeding.”

Given that what you create cannot be separated from the act of creating, I’d like to offer these 10 Rules for Creative Writing to guide your efforts.


The Rules:

  1. Neuroscience has concluded that everyone possesses the capacity for creativity and innovation. All are entitled to make art.
  2. Creativity is intuitive, craft skills are acquired. Good writing requires both.
  3. Misconceptions about writing challenge writers as often as the task itself. (Common examples: People are either creative by nature, or they aren’t. / Writing is easy, for people meant to write. / I must make a living from my writing to be considered a writer.)
  4. Believing glass ceilings are “fixed” fixes them. People rarely attempt what they do not believe possible. Believing yourself limitless enables you to work harder and achieve more than if you have a preconceived notion of what your limits might be.
  5. Failure is essential in the making of art. Fear of making mistakes leads to paralysis. Instead of looking for the “right” way of doing things, look for one way, and then another way, a way, your way.
  6. Art is art. Life is life. Art is a PART of life.
  7. Writing is a balancing act between art and craft, creation and criticism, knowledge and mystery. Writers who learn to embrace dualities thrive.
  8. Sophistication arises from the media you consume. The best way to serve your writing is by taking in as diverse and discerning a mix as possible.
  9. The fastest way to elevate material is to think of theme as a question rather than a statement. What larger question about humanity does your story explore?
  10. We can only write what we are grooved to write. And that’s OK. What you most want to write is what you should be writing. So stop worrying about that.

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Carol Test
Carol Test
CAROL TEST is an award-winning short story writer and former editor-in-chief of Sonora Review. Raised in Phoenix, she earned her MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Arizona and taught fiction workshops at the college level for more than a decade. She currently empowers authors to get works-in-progress publication-ready via The Writing Cycle.
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Showing 2 comments
  • Jeff Rathbun
    Reply

    Carol,
    I was reading “Return To Oakpine” when I stopped to bounce around in Google hunting for information on its author, Ron Carlson, specifically to see if he had a website. In the process it was my good fortune to come across your website and because my expectations for websites devoted to the craft of writing are on kept on the low-side I was surprised when I found myself caught up in “The Writing Cycle.”

    There is much to investigate on its pages and it feels like the real-deal.

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