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Top Ten Things a Writer Should Never Do

Elmore Leonard’s “10 Rules for Good Writing” include Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose” and Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

Savvy advice from an old pro. But suddenly, it occurs to me that there’s more to it than that.  After all, nobody wants to wistfully look back on a writing-career-that-could-have-been and be forced to admit that all hell broke loose when s/he violated one of Malcolm’s Top Ten Things a Writer Should Never Do.

  1. Never use words like “wistfully” and “forced to admit.”
  2. Do not drink cheap wine while describing successful people because, when all is said and done, your prose will end up smelling of sour grapes.
  3. Do not try to screw over the bastards who tried to screw over your writing career unless you’re pretty sure you won’t get caught because if you do get caught, you will personally be all said and done before having a chance to write your swan song.
  4. Never grab pithy quotes off the Internet from people you’ve never heard of because you might end up looking bad without knowing why all hell broke loose.
  5. Use of the passive voice is to be avoided.
  6. If you’re walking around quoting W. Somerset Maugham’s statement that “There are three rules for writing the novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are,” stop doing it immediately. We’re all sick of hearing it and it won’t make you look smart.
  7. Don’t believe experts who say that to produce good writing “You simply sit down at the typewriter, open your veins, and bleed.” Nobody uses typewriters these days and you’ll just end up with blood on your hands when the cops bust in and accuse you of causing all hell to break loose.
  8. Never say things like “I’d sell my granny’s fanny to get a good agent” because even if you don’t, people will think you did.
  9. Never kill a book reviewer without first writing yourself an airtight alibi.
  10. Never plagiarize material from writers who have already admitted that they stole most of their stuff from somebody else.


Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of the comedy/satire “Jock Stewart and the Missing Sea of Fire” and the “Jock Talks” series of scandalously inappropriate e-books.

He is forced to admit that while writing satire, you can do all the things you should never do and get away with it.

  1. mary hazlett #

    Words to live by. Suddenly I see the light. All hell is breaking loose so i have to send my comment and get the hell outa here.


    January 25, 2012
  2. Smoky Zeidel #

    Ah, Malcolm–your comedic voice is alive and well! (I tried to write that using a different verb, rather than a “to be” verb. But, you know, sometimes you gotta use what you gotta use!)

    January 25, 2012
    • Nice of you to day, Smoky. And if you gotta use something, that’s the way the wind’s blowing–or something like that.


      January 25, 2012
      • Smoky Zeidel #

        Hey, we’re having winter Santa Ana winds today–the wind is definitely blowing. I’m waiting for the top of Mt. Baldy to fly across the valley and land on my back deck, it’s so breezy. Which has absolutely nothing to do with what you were saying. But, I’m just sayin’…

        January 25, 2012
        • Wind is a good friend of mine, though I prefer Chinooks.

          January 25, 2012
  3. Brilliant!

    Re: item 2, where in my home are you hiding, exactly?

    There go my plans for Ripple-fueled NYT bestseller list domination….

    January 25, 2012
  4. That must be why I’m not a writer: I can remember only 9 of these.

    January 25, 2012
    • It’s never too late to start, Montucky.


      January 25, 2012
  5. Hilarious. Will tweet!

    January 26, 2012
    • Cool, Anne, and thanks for the Tweet.


      January 26, 2012
  6. I wish I had a typewriter… Now I feel like finding another Maugham quote to use [g]

    January 28, 2012

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