Ten Commandments for the Novelist

I’m slowly working my way through my book collection and making those difficult decisions as to what I should keep, what I should sell and what I should give away (I think it’s going to be a long process). One of the benefits of working my way through my books in methodical fashion, is that I’ve been able to uncover a few hidden wonders along the way.

In leafing my way through the pages of ‘The Writer’s Craft’ (a book that’s currently in the ‘out’ pile), I found the ‘Ten Commandments for the Novelist’ by Louis Zara. I’m not generally a believer or follower of writing guides or those texts on how to become a writer, but I felt these commandments contained some valid points worth sharing.

Ten Commandments for the Novelist:

  1. Thou shalt not write with one ear to the cash register, for the clink of coin may deafen thee to the rhythm of thine own prose.
  2. Thou shalt not have contempt for thy reader. He may yet write rings around thee.
  3. Neither shalt thou befuddle him with obfuscations thou understandeth not thyself.
  4. Thou shalt not covet the success of thy neighbour: neither his style, nor his plots nor his characterisations, nor his royalties.
  5. Honour thy language and write earnestly. Master the tools of thy trade and be as good a joiner in words as a master carpenter is in woods.
  6. Be not hasty after the plaudits of the multitude, for they will pursue thee in thy measure and worth, and though they come not quickest to those that are lacking in greed, yet they stay the longest.
  7. Despise not those masters who came before thee, and neither do thou worship them blindly.
  8. Thou shalt not pose nor regard thyself as anointed, for the seeds of talent are as the sands on the seashore and ten thousand may spring into bloom and expose thee for a weed.
  9. Thou shalt not look away from the life about thee, for in it lie thy roots and thy nourishment.
  10. Write from the depths of thy soul and men will know thee from its quality.

I think these commandments make some interesting points – some that have perhaps been forgotten by a few established authors, and some that may provide comfort for those still finding their writing feet.

I think a really wonderful thing about being a writer is that your words can live on forever … all it takes is for someone to happen across them in an old book and share them with the world once more.


  1. Gabrielle Bryden

    What a great list – one we could all learn from πŸ™‚

    1. tracey (Post author)

      Hi Gabrielle – It is a rather lovely list … I shall have to try and remember these writing ‘commandments’ when I’m feeling a little lost for words. They may just give me a much needed push! πŸ™‚

  2. Ricardo

    These are all excellent and truly amazing. I know a few people who write that have contempt for everyone, including their readers, and wonder (despite their academic credentials and plaudits from academia) why they haven’t gone anywhere.

    1. tracey (Post author)

      Hi Ricardo – It is a wonderful list for all of us writers to remember I think. Like yourself, I know quite a few people who write with such contempt for their readers that it laces their words with poison and there is little joy in reading their words …

      While I think writers often write for themselves (to some degree), the writing contract is only completed when someone reads and appreciates those words that have been written. The reader therefore fulfills a vital role … thanks for getting me thinking further on the subject! πŸ™‚

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