How to be a Good Writer


  1. Remove all voice, diction, complexity, confusion, philosophy from your story
  2. Make sure your tone, etc matches that of Journalism. Something that does not sound like a person, but rather a typewriter. Or a news anchor.
  3. Use someone else’s narrative structures. Freytag’s Pyramid, The Monomyth, Fairy Tales, etc. The older and more overused it is, the better.
  4. Worship McKee’s Story. Write like a movie, because that’s what you really want out of all this anyway. A film deal.
  5. Characters should be a collection of one-dimensional traits that are easy to portray in any situation. This gives the reader a chance to pretend they are real and consistent, when in fact they are cardboard and glue.
  6. Read millions of blogs on writing. Listen to every advice. Worship writers with a modicum of more success than you. Imitate them in hopes of being them.
  7. Join a critique group. Workshop the fuck out of everything. Listen to everyone. Do as they say. Write stories that make your critique group happy. Write for them, write to make them applaud. They know what’s best for you.
  8. Avoid anything that could make a story considered “art”. Art is unsalable. As is anything involving emotion, context, or imagination. Stick to the basics.
  9. Plot! Plot! Happy endings! Pay offs at the end! Endings!
  10. Be predictable and cliche in all things. Be mediocre in all things.
That said, fuck that noise. Why would you want to be a good writer? Good? What’s good about good? 

10 thoughts on “How to be a Good Writer

  1. Coffee, meet nasal cavity. Thanks for that…

    I will say, McKee helped me immensely in structuring my first movie adaptation, er, novel. Gave me some new approaches to organizing a collection of disparate elements into something resembling a story.

    I tend to think of all the “rules for writers” and writing advice blogs in relation to learning music: knowing the “proper” way to do things makes it much easier to bend/spindle/mutilate as desired. But in both cases, slavish devotion to the rules gets you Dan Brown and/or Britney Spears. Which is to say, way too rich to care what *I* think…


      • Rules are by definition stifling… or constraining at the very least. Nonetheless they have their uses: forgive the reductio ad absurdum, but if one were to ignore *all* writing rules, one would end up writing in an invented language using incomprehensible, spontaneously-imagined symbols*. Unless the idea of language is too constraining 🙂

        Anyway, I take your point (and by-and-large agree). I’m just saying that knowing the rules (perhaps “conventions” is a better term here) is often helpful in subverting them.


        *Hmmm… now there’s an interesting idea…

  2. That interesting idea has already been done, several times, in different centuries 🙂 One of the most recent ones is Untitled by Paul French and published by Beggar Press.

    I’m against the idea that any form of writing can be distilled down and taught at all. I don’t believe in rules for writing, esp in novels! I mean come on, it’s just an agreed upon format that evolved over a century of the long written form. Since the first novel (supposed) there has been the existence of an anti-novel (Tristan Shandy). You don’t have to know the rules to break them, you don’t have to be aware of the rules to be an amazing fucking writer.

    You just need to read. Ingest. Read. Think critically about what you read. Write, write more, think critically about what you write, and it feeds itself.

  3. “You don’t have to know the rules to break them, you don’t have to be aware of the rules to be an amazing fucking writer.”

    I never said you did. I just said it helps. Do you think Laurence Sterne just *happened* to write an “anti-novel”?

    I’m not sure I see much of a difference between thinking critically about what you read/write, and “teaching” writing. The problem IMO is when critical thinking (e.g. understanding why a certain convention has a certain impact) is presented as the “right” way to do something. But maybe I’m just arguing semantics now, and it’s a bit late in the day for that. 🙂


  4. Thinking critically to me is a form of personal philosophy, and not of understanding writing because of codes or guidelines, but an attempt at infiltrating and questioning a work on an intimate, ontological level. That’s not something that is taught, I don’t think. And it’s an approach that’s different for everyone else.

    Of course he didn’t accidently write an anti-novel, but that doesn’t mean he had to learn the rules to write it. He just had to read four or five books, saw a pattern he thought was stupid, and provide an alternative. He didn’t open up the writer’s list of things to do and think, “I know these all by heart, used them in every story I wrote. Now I want to break them, because I can!” No, no, he just took out his hammer and started smashing.

  5. Don’t forget “Never leave your reader under-informed and alone in the story, or he or she will become confused and angry. Provide answers for every possible question that your story inspires. Provide explanations. Use lots of adjectives.”

    • Right! Oh, and another I forgot-
      Read Stephen King’s On Writing because he’s like, the only real writer anyway.
      Kill adverbs
      Eat babies
      Bathe in the blood of unicorns

      (ps- explanations are for boring people)

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