Mark Twain’s Top 10 Rules for Writing

If Mark Twain was a tweeter I would be his follower.  He had strong opinions and a gnarly wit. I imagine if he were to write a top 10 list for aspiring writers, it would go something like this. His words are bold.

  • Read. All great writers must first be great readers. Read everything. Different genres, styles, poetry, classics, and as many works of the greatest authors of all time. The man who does not read has no advantage over the man who cannot read.
  •  Write what you know, or otherwise do your research. Get your facts first, and then you can distort ’em as much as you please.
  •  With style and substance, get to the point. Anybody can have ideas–the difficulty is to express them without squandering a quire of paper on an idea that ought to be reduced to one glittering paragraph.Don’t be verbose: use plain, simple language, short words and brief sentences. That is the way to write English -Stick to it; don’t let fluff and flowers and verbosity creep in.
  • Use adjectives sparingly. When you catch an adjective, kill it. No, I don’t mean utterly, but kill most of them – then the rest will be valuable. They weaken when they are close together. They give strength when they are wide apart.
  • Show, don’t tell.
    Show, Don't Tell
    Show, Don’t Tell

    Don’t say the lady screamed, bring her on and let her scream!

  • Revise. Writing is easy. All you have to do is cross out the wrong words. God only exhibits his thunder and lightning at intervals, and so they always command attention. These are God’s adjectives. You thunder and lightning too much; the reader ceases to get under the bed, by and by.
  • Create characters the readers can relate to. tom sawyerMake the reader feel a deep interest in the personages of his take and in their fate; and that he shall make the reader love the good people in the tale and hate the bad ones.
  • Strive for the right word. The difference between the almost right word and the right word is … the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning. Don’t use a five-dollar word when a fifty-cent word will do.
  • Don’t use subjunctive form. The subjunctive is not a tense –  it is a mood that reflects how the writer feels about the action, It is potential, uncertain, reflects predictions, and desires. Damn the subjunctive.  It brings all our writers to shame.
  •  Be truthful, and write with conviction. If you tell the truth you don’t have to remember anything.