Over my years as a writer, I’ve thought many times not about what is on the page (or screen) in front of me, but who is this person who sits facing the page or screen. Who and what creates this persona of writer? What does one believe in so that one can continue the work as wordsmith? I’ve collected these ideas into a personal manifesto. I offer it, in which you can add, embellish or delete.
A Writer’s Manifesto
1 Obsess; obsess about your obsession. Your writing?
2 There are no rules in writing; there are many things to ponder.
3 There are two rules in writing: never bore and never confuse your reader (or yourself).
4 As soon as your writing becomes drudgework—stop. Take a break.
5 Learn due diligence; due reverence; due rebellion.
6 Meet the enemy (writers’ block) head on.
7 Know that the enemy (in writing) is you.
8 In any prose piece you write, throw away the first page. (This is a joke. Perhaps.)
9 In any poem you write, throw away the last line. (This is a joke. Perhaps.)
10 Stop reading this and get back to your writing.
11 Or, keep reading. Good writers are voracious and deep readers.
12 Fill in #12 yourself; make up something; be creative; that’s why you’re here, isn’t it?
13 Be careful of editors who think they know more about your work than you do.
14 Be careful that you think you know more about your work than some of your readers do.
15 Whenever someone reads your work and they think they know who you are, they don’t. You’re not that person when you wrote that piece; you have moved on to a different place.
16 You’re never as good as you think you are, and you’re never as bad as they say you are.
17. Never throw any of your writing away. Yesterday’s crap may be tomorrow’s gems. As the stable boy said as he muckraked, “There’s a pony in here somewhere.”
18. Live in the three circles of trust. Trust in what you are writing; trust in your reader (readers want to read something that changes their lives); you’re a writer, there will come a time when you will blindly have to trust that.
19. Showing is the warp; telling is the weft. You need both to weave the story. (Note: look up warp and weft.)
20 Understand that creativity is a chronic disease that can never be cured. It can only be managed.
21 A mentor is not a shrink and a writing workshop is not group therapy. You are not crazy. You’re a writer.
22 Keep a poisoned apple in your pocket, like the one The Wicked Queen created: one side poisoned, one side not. It may come in handy, but know which side is which.
23 You’ve probably become the writer that you’ve fantasized about, but you can no longer live that fantasy. You ultimately have to get to the desk and write.
24 Don’t waste time being (unless you’re meditating, and don’t do too much of that—you’ll lose your edge). It’s all about becoming.
25 Somewhere each day the words will stop. You’ll never know when, but they will. Prepare yourself for that.
26 You have to trust that the words will return. By a faceless messenger on a motorbike (faceless because he or she never takes off the helmet).
27 Don’t waste time thinking you can seduce the messenger to show up tomorrow or buy them off to bring you more or better words. The messenger is only the messenger.
28 The messenger will bring you an envelope full of words—random words in no particular order. Dump them on the table and start finding which words follow the others. Make it up as you go along. See what looks right. Feel what sounds right, what phrases have good mouth feel like chocolate swirl or cheddar melt, homey like tapioca or exotic like eel.
29 Let your characters talk to you. You’ll never be lonely. Let them say the things your mother wouldn’t think proper or would make your first date never call back.
30 In the old days, writing “30” at the end of a page meant that you’d reached the end. Know when things have reached closure. When you have said all that you’ve needed to say. Then stop.
Laurence Carr is the founder and publisher of Lightwood Press. He is a Hudson Valley writer. This excerpt is from an upcoming book, Writing Words.