Since these have been going around lately, and since I’ve done my own critique of Elmore Leonard”s ten rules, here are The Juggling Author’s 10 rules for writing:


  1. Story: What makes a story great is plot and character. That’s what makes readers read on. While it’s great to know when to properly use a semi-colon, the quality of your prose won’t matter if the reader doesn’t like your story.
  2. Character: the reader needs to see herself in your character. At least, in some measure. The reader needs to have a reason to care about what your character is doing. Find the humanity in everyone.
  3. Plot: Give your character a desire, which leads to a goal. Put obstacles in the way of that goal. Make the obstacles progressively harder.
  4. Tension: Every story needs to have tension to keep the reader interested. You have to make the reader worried that your hero won’t reach her goal.
  5. Marketing: Once your book is done, you have to stop thinking of it as a piece of art. It becomes a product. Without that emotional distance, you’ll never be able to sell it.
  6. Kill your darlings: Faulkner’s quote isn’t literally about getting rid of your favorite things. He’s saying you have to be objective about your own work. You have to be as ruthless as if someone else had written it.
  7. Experience: You have to do a lot of living. Go places, meet different types of people, try different careers. If you’re a liberal who can’t put yourself in the shoes of a conservative, you’ll never be able to write one that’s anything other than a caricature. And readers will know a caricature when they see one.
  8. Don’t shit where you eat: Be nice to people online and in real life, especially people in the publishing industry. You never know when a burned bridge can come back to haunt you.
  9. Don’t be boring: Elmore Leonard said to “leave out the part readers tend to skip.” Above all, the greatest sin an author can commit is to lose the reader’s attention by being boring. Once they put your book down, it’s an uphill battle to get them to pick it back up.
  10. Never give up: the only way to ensure failure is to stop trying.