The Ten Commandments of a Writer’s Life

By Rachel Howzell Hall, author of They All Fall Down

I. You shall not ignore your emotions.

You received a rejection, you don’t know what else you can do to move ahead in this field. Everyone else is winning big except you. I know—I’ve been there. Cry—it’s appropriate. Laugh because life is funny and people are strange. Acknowledge your emotions—it’s healthy.

II. You shall not forget those trunk novels.

The Muskrat Chronicles may not have sold and you’re kinda embarrassed to read it but! There may be a few good passages, names or descriptions in those pages. Tear off that meat and stuff it into your work-in-progress. Let The Muskrat Chronicles help you and jumpstart a better story.

III. You shall not quit your day job

It’s easier to accept failure and setbacks in writing if you’re not writing to eat. Also: compelling characters don’t live at home. No, they steal creamer from the fridge in the breakroom.

IV. Remember the IRS.

Ask your accountant about new tax laws. Keep your receipts. Pay taxes as soon as you get a check. I keep an expandable file folder at my work desk. Whenever I come from something book-related, I drop receipts and slips into that folder. Never think that the IRS won’t catch you. As the kids say: LOL

V. Honor your interests outside of writing

Take a break away from books. Let your mind refresh. Videogames are my getaway. Nothing’s better than wandering around, looking for gold, power armor and mutants to shoot.

VI. You shall not ever say, ‘I don’t have time to read.’

Wrong answer! There is no better way to improve your craft and to see new tricks. Writers need random bits of trivial knowledge that we can pull out to pepper our pages. Even if it’s ten pages or ten chapters, all reading counts!

VII. You shall not shun friends and family.

They love you and understand your need to write. But treat them right. Play ‘Ticket to Ride’ or go to the movies. Take a walk. It won’t kill you. Maybe Nana will say something so crazy that you’ll have to put it in a story.

VIII. You shall not hustle all the time.

See commandments 5 and 7. But also, enjoy what you’ve done. Tell yourself, ‘good job,’ and smile and sigh. This is hard. Give yourself a moment. Don’t worry: the hustle will be there, waiting.

IX. You shall not stay home.

Travel. Even if it’s just 30 miles, smell different air. How does the Denny’s thirty miles away cook their Grand Slam? New places spark new conversation, and new surroundings bring new people (and potential characters) into your life.

X. You shall be kind.

Don’t be a jerk. Always play it forward. If you can’t attend a panel discussion, suggest someone who can. This is a small world and people will remember if you were an ass or an angel.

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