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


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.

28 Comment(s)

  1. Interesting quirky insights!

    Lyndi | Aug 24, 2013 | Reply

  2. This has got to be the best fucking thing I have ever read. Perhaps that’s a sign I need to read more, but that is neither here nor there.
    I have been involved in countless hours of reading/listening/translating/writing/lecturing, & none of the words occupying all those many hours have made as big an impact as the 107 rules I just devoured. Or at least, they weren’t as meaningful. Granted, I was unable to decide what was sarcasm and what was not; it was still a goddamn wonderful piece of work.

    Ricky Flynn | Aug 24, 2013 | Reply

  3. “Granted, I was unable to decide what was sarcasm and what was not”

    - this is a problem I face in most of my daily life. It started with the intent of just being all jokes, but I think I accidentally slipped some real ones in there. Because, as it turns out, 107 is A LOT, which I realized around number 45 or so.

    Tom | Aug 25, 2013 | Reply

  4. I tried swallowing a penny, but it didn’t work.

    Kiterie | Aug 27, 2013 | Reply

  5. Please consult your doctor before swallowing any other currency.

    Tom | Aug 27, 2013 | Reply

  6. Funny, lots of authors and people say to make yourself write when you don’t feel like it, and that inspiration is over rated

    nathan | Aug 28, 2013 | Reply

  7. Do you have an opinion on the use of dinosaurs in story lines? Also, if a vampire is metaphor for municipal government, what, if anything, do you feel the werewolf represents?

    K8Malloy | Aug 30, 2013 | Reply

  8. ooo…loved these! I needed a smile today…thanks.

    nora | Aug 30, 2013 | Reply

  9. I started writing a novel with these rules in mind, but I have to keep deleting the majority of sentences as I apply them. I think it’s probably going to end up being 51 pages of some twins swearing at each other in a made up language (mostly in caps) in incredible detail until they are shot by a gun. I expect to be a best seller, and you’ll know its mine by reading the acknowledgements.

    Chris O | Aug 30, 2013 | Reply

  10. Okay– 102 is real. Swear. Totally real.

    amy lane | Aug 30, 2013 | Reply

  11. Far and away the best writing advice on the Internet. People need to read this, and then they need to stop looking to the Internet for writing advice and get back to writing.

    Janni Lee Simner | Aug 30, 2013 | Reply

  12. The more I think about it, the more I like both 101 and 102, actually. A 1% success rate seems just about right.

    Tom | Aug 30, 2013 | Reply

  13. 28. “Just assume everyone has a weird fetish they’d like to keep secret.” THE ACTUAL BEST

    Sam | Aug 31, 2013 | Reply

  14. This inspired me more than Dan Brown’s “Inferno” and I have no fucking idea why.

    Zahilara | Aug 31, 2013 | Reply

  15. I completely discounted this post after Rule #3. I mean, how else am I supposed to establish the fact that my characters are poor farmers?

    Patrick B. | Sep 1, 2013 | Reply


    Pi Rho | Sep 2, 2013 | Reply

  17. beautiful

    Juno | Sep 3, 2013 | Reply

  18. My first three reactions where:
    What? No way…

    Chelsy Spell | Sep 4, 2013 | Reply

  19. Not gonna lie, I use abuse adverbs frequently. ;)

    Henry | Sep 4, 2013 | Reply

  20. Sarah’s Parody for Tom’s 107 Ironclad Rules for Writers Who Want to Be Better at Writing

    1. Write every day. On the days you have nothing interesting to say, drink a Rockstar.
    2. Never write when you’re too cold – unless it’s a horror story because then it makes for a chilling plot.
    3. Some people do like and even enjoy broccoli. Characters should eat more of this food.
    4. Again, Rockstars are a writer’s greatest tool.
    5. Skinny people really do have issues. Fat people live longer, but medium sized portions are best for both.
    6. I teach special education. I have never used the word travail.
    7. After your second draft, write a third, and a fourth. Then you can stop. Five is just too much.
    8. You won’t know how my character’s hands smells, but one of them will have long, elegant French manicured nails.
    9. Oh, we can use a father as a character? I’ll have to try that. Oh, wait, I did – he didn’t say much. He was at work – all day.
    10. No one knows what the appendix is for… maybe it was once a gill?
    11. If you’re going to write outdoors, ensure you have the proper sunscreen.
    12. 1st person narrative is too one sided.
    13. Maybe the multiple questions marks is so I do look crazy.
    14. Tunics are just bad fashion. Sweatpants.
    15. If chronological order is not your thing, have the character default to a flashback of a bad memory.
    16. If you’re in a place without gravity, you definitely won’t have any medium sized characters. Without gravity, there’s no weight!
    17. Stop with the pet dogs and cats. Get a hermit crab. It’ll live for at least a few days.
    18. Sometimes you have to do research to write a better scene… Try the plenty of fish dating website.
    19. Who needs profanity, when we have phrases, such as “OMFG!”
    20. The eyes are the window to the soul, silly. Always know your character’s eye color.
    21. Only China wants you to believe most people don’t know math anyway.
    22. Cajun accents are cool.
    23. Move counterclockwise. When you’re facing someone, his left is your right anyway.
    24. What’s weird is I’m left handed and my twins’ dad is left handed, yet my twins are right handed.
    25. Make sure you can define an adverb. Do you even know what one is?
    26. The letter that implies indecision is Q even if it is always followed by U.
    27. Adults can do more than children, which makes them more interesting. Kids under two just sleep, eat, and cry.
    28. Everyone does have a weird fetish, but they usually aren’t good at keeping it a secret. Someone has to find out or you really don’t have a plot.
    29. Picture books make everyone happy.
    30. No one reads the acknowledgement pages. A simple dedication is just fine to let everyone know who you’re disappointing on your bad days.
    31. Someone is always pregnant and having baby mama drama.
    32. You need to build your plot – not spend time on what your characters are eating. Forget the broccoli. Rockstars have vitamin B – that’s the only nutrients you really need anyway.
    33. Take the word “that” out of every sentence you can!!!!!!!! (Oh, sorry, do I look crazy???????)
    34. Writer’s block is best cured by drinking more Rockstars.
    35. The middle C is the first key everyone learns to play on the piano.
    36. In dialogue, uh’s are great – stop the hmmms.
    37. Conjunctions do NOT start the beginning of the sentence, danget!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    38. It’s good not to over sanitize. Deadly microbes help build your immune system.
    39. If you need a good plot twist, keep drinking Rockstars and see what happens.
    40. Unless your story is set in Scotland, you don’t need redheads.
    41. If you change the plot just enough, no one will know it’s from a Nancy Drew book.
    42. Listen to the editor… then submit somewhere else and get your original published anyway.
    43. Notepads are larger than index cards. It’s hard to write small when the jitters from the Rockstars kick in.
    44. Incorporate a word from a foreign language in everyday writing.
    45. Your literary heroes have issues. Stop telling yours!
    46. Jet skis are in!
    47. An airplane is only interesting with snakes and Samuel L. Jackson and on it. Okay, an airplane is only interesting with Samuel L. Jackson on it – snakes not so much.
    48. I’m going to stop using alarm clocks at the beginning of my scenes. The dog can lick my character’s face to wake them up… oh wait, my characters have hermit crabs… Oh, I know – a doorbell or a loud knocking sound!
    49. If someone’s stuck, someone has a cell phone, but there is probably no service. I recommend T-Mobile.
    50. Rain gets old too.
    51. There are always mice in the attic.
    52. Conjoined twins are more interesting.
    53. Everyone feeds the elephant peanuts at the zoo.
    54. I’ve never published a manuscript in present tense. I still try sometimes.
    55. Characters are easy to distinguish by their grills and unique tattoos of their children’s names.
    56. Bold letters make words sound important.
    57. Metaphors require too much thought.
    58. Canada won’t allow people to carry guns. They are more creative when it comes to killing someone, so introduce the poison by page two. It’s a slower death, so you need more time to write about it.
    59. Bedrooms and offices are the other 20% of settings for all human conversations.
    60. A gerund will do something if it drinks a Rockstar.
    61. Lies are bad. Never, ever tell a lie unless it gets you out of a ticket, lawsuit, criminal charge, or if it gets you something good in return. (Like telling a rich man you love him for his bank card, but since Adam is a writer – no need to lie there!)
    62. Elevators never work. Why are your characters getting in one? It’s going to malfunction, and they will be trapped. Then, that pregnant character with all the baby mama drama will go into labor.
    63. Readers wonder how your characters can afford such nice, fancy rides! Put the name of the car in italics to emphasize that.
    64. Your character may not be a secretary, company president, reporter, lawyer, convicted felon, nurse, teacher, police officer, paramedic, doctor, parolee, or student either.
    65. I use the word radar.
    66. The phases of the moon are only important if you’re writing about werewolves, or if I’m casting a spell for increased book sales (that should be done when the moon is full).
    67. Watch ants in an ant farm travel – you’re a writer. You can’t afford it.
    68. Shrugging, she sighed. I rarely sigh or shrug in life or for that matter I don’t shake my head or nod much either.
    69. Rockstars help improve your memory function. It has herbs.
    70. Someone always gets soaked in the rain.
    71. Laminate floors are prettier than linoleum.
    72. You can’t see many stars in the city.
    73. Please don’t be like Shakespeare. No one understands his writing.
    74. Until you’ve been a guest on Chelsea Lately AND – AND!!!! – demand she herself pour the Rockstar in your coffee mug as opposed to the water they sip on during chats, you have not made it.
    75. A nice demon is boring to write about. Drink one more Rockstar and look at your eyes. Have your eyes bugged out yet? If so, begin with that…
    76. My most vulnerable moments while I am sleeping would include a 150lb German Shepherd staring right at you… and he’s growling.
    77. Misery loves company. Remember that!
    78. If 25% of your story is flashbacks, your characters aren’t taking enough LSD.
    79. If you’ve ever read the Harvard Lampoon’s Hunger Games parody, The Hunger Pains, you’ll know when you kill people they turn into puppies.
    80. You won’t be too hungry with all that Rockstar in your belly, but if you must eat something, cucumbers have zero calories.
    81. Clearly people really do not know their math – especially percentages. (I know – that was done on purpose – math humor, hardy har har har~!)
    82. If you decided to put interesting twins in your story, it is proof, once you’re pregnant – you can get pregnant again! (Mine are 11 years old.)
    83. If you do not bleed Rockstar by this point, your mind is not fit to write.
    84. Your characters should not be hacking – they should be poking – lots and lots of poking.
    85. Government officials are usually corrupt. Sometimes it’s okay to take things from real life, but make sure your characters have health insurance coverage, so they can’t be taxed. It’s very important.
    86. Dialect is not as important as a translating app.
    87. Blank pages will just be ripped out and used for joints if the paper is like Bible paper.
    88. The type of font is not as important as the size of the font. Sometimes you need to shrink or enlarge it to meet minimum page requirements.
    89. If you do take a secret to the afterlife, you must come back and find a way to communicate it to someone. Remember attics are great portals.
    90. Okay, stop at five drafts. STOP!
    91. Aliens are really what humans will look like in one hundred years. Our eyes enlarge from staring at this computer screen and are feet and arms shrink as fingers are really only what is necessary to type.
    92. Remember no alarms clocks, knocks, or doorbells at the beginning of the scene.
    93. The real mystery is how to sell your stories – not publish them.
    94. Characters who poach rhinos will have ketchup thrown on them by PETA.
    95. Functions is a math term – don’t attempt it. Parabolas are more confusing. If I understood these things, I would not be a writer and consequently I would have way more money.
    96. Your draft is never final – you just stop at five, remember? You did stop, right?
    97. No,bold font makes words important. CAPS MEANS I’M SCREAMING.
    98. Sunsets make for great illustrations.
    99. The decision your character makes to buy or not to buy health insurance will let readers know his political stand. I pay my doctor in cash sometimes – just to rebel.
    100. Realism and fiction don’t go together.
    101. I have always believed in the Christian God, and I believe he is an idiot.
    102. Believe in Santa Clause. When my twins found out he was not real, they turned to me even more alarmed and said, “Wait, does this mean the Easter bunny is not real either?”
    103. You may have a broken arm that requires a cast. Semicolons are like casts.
    104. Write what you know. For some people, it isn’t much or it isn’t very intelligent. Those people usually vote with the democrats.
    105. Read The Hunger Games – those are good books, but The Hunger Pains is even better. (And then you’ll understand why I am afraid of Red Bulls and prefer Rockstars.)
    106. Why does someone in my stories always act like Uncle Fred?
    107. The square root of 144 is 12. Now add that together and you get 156. 156 is the perfect number of pages for a book. If that doesn’t make sense to you, you really do need to drink another Rockstar, so you have the energy to take a math class – then you can write about that.

    Sarah | Sep 5, 2013 | Reply

  21. Oops – I mean #91 OUR feet and arms…oops! Here goes draft six…where’s my Rockstar?

    Sarah | Sep 5, 2013 | Reply

  22. But I know you meant it about the adverbs, right? Right?

    Sea | Sep 5, 2013 | Reply

  23. Two things:
    1) I work for a student-run newspaper, and I’ve printed out #33 in huge Georgia font to post on the wall of the publication suite.
    2) To Sarah:
    33. Take the word “that” out of every sentence you can!!!!!!!! (Oh, sorry, do I look crazy???????)
    This is The Second Rule 33, and I’ve been thinking it for about a year now. You’re not alone.

    Anthony | Sep 15, 2013 | Reply

  24. Hello! I wanted to let you know that I’ve linked to this wonderful post in my monthly round-up of the best things I’ve found on the web. You can view the post here: http://spikesandstardust.com/2013/09/27/september-delights/. I hope you have a lovely day!

    Indigo Colton | Sep 27, 2013 | Reply

  25. the werewolf used to represent genetic disorders but nowadays it’s more likely to represent sexually transmitted diseases.

    Michelle | Oct 26, 2013 | Reply

  26. 1) In any list of rules, know which ones are worth breaking
    2) When in doubt, describe something through the eyes of someone who’s never seen it before
    3) It is caffeine alone that sets my mind in motion. By the beans of Java, my thoughts acquire speed. The hands acquire shakes. The shakes become a warning. It is caffeine alone that sets my mind in motion. (sip)
    4) Faffing about on the internet is research
    5) Watching lots of TV is research
    6) People-watching is research
    7) In brief, anything that isn’t writing is research
    8) Do lots of research
    9) When certain, do something horrible to your characters
    10) Kill your darlings – unless they’re necessary for the plot
    11) In case of necessary darlings – torture them
    12) Cliche’s are meant to be broken
    13) So are tropes
    14) Set up a goal for your hero(ine)… then block them at every turn
    15) The world needs more leading ladies. Make them good ones
    16) Upset all stereotypes – it’s funny when they cry
    17) Put more colour in your world. White is not the only shade of human.
    18) Upset the established social order – it is also a funny crier
    19) Never let a running joke get any rest
    20) Keep writing.
    21) Publish, or none of it is worth it.

    C M Weller | Oct 28, 2013 | Reply

  27. I love you
    I’ve laughed more at this than I have in the past month combined, please and thank

    Angela | Mar 5, 2014 | Reply

  28. You sir, have just made my entire month that much more lovely. Thank you.

    Danielle Marston | Apr 17, 2014 | Reply

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  1. Aug 30, 2013: from 107 Ironclad Rules for Writers Who Want to Be Better at Writing : Tom McAllister | Ska det verkligen se ut sådär?
  2. Sep 1, 2013: from It’s All In The Writing, Folks and the Week Ahead in Reviews | scatteredthoughtsandroguewords
  3. Sep 2, 2013: from 107 Ironclad Rules for Writers Who Want to Be Better At Writing | Nikka Michaels
  4. Sep 9, 2013: from Revision Hell | Lorelai Carson
  5. Sep 27, 2013: from September Delights |

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