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Here are the rules for writing that I currently follow – or try to follow. They are listed in order from the most important to the least.

  1. Write the truth in as few words as possible.
  2. Write 500 words a day. Write something that can stand on its own.
  3. Write what interests you. Assume the reader is just as interested. Keep a list of things to write about. When you get an idea, add it to the list.
  4. Read authors whose writing style you love.
  5. Read instead of watching so much television.
  6. Carry a notebook and pen with you whenever you can.
  7. Better to write in the heat of the moment than to wait.
  8. Be clear, simple, direct.
  9. Reread what you wrote. And again the next day. And again two months later.
  10. Write to be read anywhere in the world.
  11. Write for the ages, write so you can be understood in a hundred years or more.
  12. As much as possible, stick to the words most commonly used in both Shakespeare’s time and our own.
  13. Write in proper English, except when quoting what people said.
  14. To settle questions about words, look to these authorities in the following order:
    • The Oxford dictionary
    • The Economist
    • Vibe
    • The Urban Dictionary
    • Wikipedia
    • The Internet (Google it)
  15. Write like you are talking to a friend. Stick as close to spoken English as possible, but avoid dialect, slang and improper English.
  16. Prefer fact over opinion.
  17. Whenever you can cut words, cut them.
  18. Write so it is picturable.
  19. Prefer actors and actions over events, description and states of being. Not: “In the 1600s blacks became slaves”, but “In the 1600s whites brought blacks to America in chains.”
  20. Put action in present time as much as possible. Not: “A tiger bit my dog last summer”, but: “It was last summer and suddenly a tiger jumps out and bites my dog.”
  21. Do not make the reader look up anything or go back.
  22. Avoid:
    • slang, dialect and Americanisms
    • words of more than two syllables
    • numbers and measurements
    • unfamiliar words and names
  23. Write more material than you need, then cut it back to the right length. This will help you to find the fat.
  24. Try to keep sentences under 25 words. If you just used a long sentence, follow it with a short one.
  25. Use paragraphs of about four sentences. Use one-sentence paragraphs only to make a point or change the subject.
  26. Say the most important things first. Do not save it for the end.
  27. At first just write: get it all down on paper. Do not care about how it sounds, do not care about mistakes, do not care if it even makes sense. Just write. Later go back and make it readable.
  28. If you get stuck – if you do not know how to start or what should come next – just write a paragraph that you know you will have to write sooner or later. Keep moving: write the pieces that you can. You can put them in the right order later.

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