Rules for the Road . . . or How to Establish Order in the Chaos of Your Writing

Adron J. Smitley
3 min readJun 25, 2020

I’m not rich and I’m not famous, but every writer needs rules to establish at least some semblance of order out from the daily chaos of their writing and these are mine earned from over thirty years of wonderful toil and struggle.

Joe’s 10 Rules of Writing:

1. Read all genres, not just your own.

2. Write every single day, no exceptions.

3. Show, don’t tell.

4. Write first, edit last.

5. Omit needless words.

6. Cut all -ly adverbs.

7. Use “said” for most if not all dialogue tags.

8. Write at least 1,000 words per day.

9. No passive voice.

10. Live life . . . or you’ll have nothing of meaning to express.

1. Just because you love and write sci-fi doesn’t mean you should only read sci-fi. Broaden your reading horizons and you just might learn something valuable you can apply to your own writing. And here’s why.

2. This explains itself. Writers write. It’s what we do. Writing is our ruling passion. If you don’t already write every single day then start now. The more you do something, the more proficient you become at doing it. And here’s why.

3. Don’t tell us Angie was hungry; show us by having her empty stomach rumble while she swoons on her feet near fainting because she hasn’t eaten anything in two days. Is Mark tired? Then have him stretch through a long yawn while scratching his hairy belly. Is Heather angry? Then have her grumble a few curses through gritted teeth while glaring murder at everyone in thin-eyed scrutiny.

4. If you stop to edit every sentence you type soon as you type it then you’ll never finish your story. You can always return to edit things later — after you’ve finished that pesky first draft. Here’s some help on that. Don’t interrupt your musing flow or it may slow to a trickle. And here’s some more help with that pesky first draft.

5. Stephen King’s golden rule. Don’t describe a doorknob for several pages of flowery prose if it’s just an ordinary doorknob only needing turned.

6. -ly adverbs aren’t just annoying but are immediate red flags of bad writing. Joe ran fastly? No! Joe sprinted. Heather yelled loudly? No! Heather screamed. Remember, the -ly adverb and the word preceding it can usually be replaced by a single superior word.

7. Stop having your characters volunteering or admitting or groaning or for god’s sake ejaculating their dialogue to each other. He said/she said, ‘nuff said.

8. My average daily word count is 5,000. Sometimes more if I’m writing new scenes, sometimes less if I’m rewriting old ones. A daily word count goal keeps you on track and keeps you productive because novels don’t write themselves. And here’s why.

9. Stop telling us Billy was hit by the ball, because we all know the ball hit Billy.

10. It’s easier to describe situations once we’ve experienced them ourselves. Period. Ask a mother of five how it feels to give birth then compare her story to her husband’s secondhand account and you’ll earn two different stories.

And remember . . . rules are made to be broken, yes, but you break them at your own discretion.

Happy writing!

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Adron J. Smitley

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