Ten Precepts for the Writing Life

Here on Mother’s Day, I offer these ten precepts for mothering the craft:


1.         Accept the fact that the majority of people have no idea how a writer works and has no appreciation of what a writer does. That guy at the gym who squints at your Iron Horse Literary Review tee-shirt with a puzzled look? There are millions like him. There are many more like him than there are like you. There’s nothing you can do to change that fact. Put the thought of it out of your head and keep writing.


2.         Make your writing part of your identity—what you do is who you are—but never allow your success or your lack thereof to be a factor in how you value yourself. Do what you do for the love of it. Do it because you have to. Write because you know you’d be less human if you stopped.


3.         Celebrate the act itself. Give thanks for the time spent creating. Think of the people who deny the opportunity, or have it denied by circumstances or by someone else. There are people in the world who would fight for just a few minutes of self-expression. Don’t waste a minute of yours. No matter the result, give thanks that you have the freedom to write.


4.         Look closely. Look again. When you’re writing, don’t settle for your first impression of a character or a situation or an image. Challenge yourself to see what most others can’t. Walk around your first ideas. Ask yourself what you’re missing. A life of nuance is a life well lived.


5.         Don’t settle for tired language. In a first draft, it’s fine, but not in a second, etc. Avoid clichés and bloodless expressions. Give your language spirit and vitality. Let it come organically from the world you’re creating on the page.


6.         Avoid envy. Someone will always be more successful than you, and you will always be more successful than someone else. Don’t despair. Envy and depression require energy that’s better spent on your writing.


7.         Be steady in your habits. Writing begets more writing, and the more you write, the better you write. Keep doing the good work.


8.         Don’t avoid the world. Writers often have the tendency to retreat into their sheltered spaces. Be bold. Venture forth into the confusion and complexity of life. Embrace the mysteries and contradictions around you. Make from them what Faulkner called, “the old verities and truths of the heart.”


9.         Know that you’ve been called to the page. You’ve been given this gift for a reason. You don’t have to know what that reason is. It will make itself clear to you in time. The more you write, the more you’ll see and know.


10.       Love yourself for what you do. Let the light and energy of your work fill you.


  1. David Haznaw on May 13, 2019 at 8:01 am

    Indeed … a well-crafted list, and a great “re-read” any day I am questioning my writing or the reasons I write. Hell, it’s a great “re-read” any day. Thanks Lee.

    • Lee Martin on May 13, 2019 at 11:51 am

      Thanks so much, David! We all need a reminder from time to time.

  2. Evelyn Krieger on May 13, 2019 at 10:42 am

    These are just wonderful, Lee. I need to print them and reread weekly. I especially like #2 and #9.

    • Lee Martin on May 13, 2019 at 11:50 am

      Thank you, Evelyn! I hope your work is going well.

  3. […] “Ten Precepts for the Writing Life,” by Lee Martin, from his blog. […]

  4. Sophfronia Scott on May 13, 2019 at 11:59 am

    Yes, I too will print these up and keep them with me. I’ll share them with my students as well. Thanks Lee!

    • Lee Martin on May 15, 2019 at 11:42 am

      I appreciate that, Sophfronia!

  5. Heidi Stauff on May 14, 2019 at 3:26 pm

    Number four hit home for me.

    • Lee Martin on May 15, 2019 at 11:43 am

      Heidi, sometimes I have to remind myself to slow down, to stay in a moment longer so I can see what I might miss if I were to hurry on.

  6. Kristin Tenor on May 14, 2019 at 8:37 pm

    So needed these reminders this week. Thank you, Lee.

    • Lee Martin on May 15, 2019 at 11:43 am

      Thanks for continuing to read my blog, Kristin!

  7. Molly DePue on May 16, 2019 at 2:20 am

    Thank you, Lee. A list that I needed to read. Your class will always be one that I feel grateful to have experienced.

    • Lee Martin on May 17, 2019 at 11:10 am

      It’s good to hear from you, Molly!

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