Fourteen Principles for Creative Writers

Adapted by Samuel Snoek-Brown from the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings first enumerated by Thich Nhat Hanh in 1966, as they appeared in the September 2007 issue of Shambhala Sun magazine, pages 64-65.

  1. Working on plot notes during a writing retreat, August 2013.
    Working on plot notes during a writing retreat, August 2013.

    Explore the possibilities in writing. Do not feel bound to reading or writing in any form, theory, or genre. Every kind of writing can inform every other kind of writing.

  2. Write what you want to write. Do not write or let yourself be forced to write anything you do not enjoy writing. Try to write things that will make you — and then others — happier or wiser.
  3. Write with passion; revise with compassion. Do not censor yourself in drafting; be courageous enough to write outrageous material. But in revision, try to avoid writing with the sole purpose of harming, dividing, or angering others; controversial writing should ultimately be constructive, educational, or unifying. If you are unsure whether your inflammatory writing will also be helpful, seek the advice of other writers.
  4. Keep improving your writing. Do not think your current skills in writing are the best writing you will — or can — accomplish, or that you are the best writer. Be open to experimentation, return to writing exercises, renew your beginner’s mind.
  5. Keep writing, period. Do not disparage your own writing to the point you never begin a project; do not lose yourself in a project so much that you never complete it. Practice disciplined writing: when all else fails, write nonsense. Set reasonable goals. Remember to revise but also remember to stop revising and let a piece be finished.
  6. Listen to comments on your writing. Do not react to negative criticism with anger or resentment. Rather, take what advice such criticism has to offer, and use your energy to drive you into new creative projects.
  7. Share your writing expertise. Do not let fame or wealth increase your ego. If you enjoy success as a writer, however small, share that success with beginning writers.
  8. Share in the writing expertise of others. Do not close yourself off from the writing community. Engage in workshops; join or form writing groups, both as a student and as a teacher. Expose your work to the criticism of others, and be willing to review others’ works.
  9. Be honest about other people’s writing. In lectures, workshops, and mentoring relationships, do not force others to adopt your preferences or techniques in writing. However, comment honestly and try to help others better their craft in whatever way you can.
  10. Support other writers. In a writing community or workshop, do not print or say things simply to be heard, to impress others, or to belittle others. Always criticize truthfully and constructively. Have the courage to support a good writer or a good piece of writing even if that writer or piece is unpopular.
  11. Use your writing community. Do not abuse your writing community by name-dropping simply to impress others, or by pinning opinions or theories to writers that are not their own. However, do use your writing community to encourage, educate, and promote beginning writers.
  12. Protect writing and writers. Do not plagiarize. Help protect the writings of others and report plagiarism wherever you find it. However, do not be afraid to try others’ ideas, and be generous with your own ideas.
  13. Nurture the written word. Patronize libraries and bookstores, attend coffeehouses and readings, subscribe to journals and magazines, visit websites. When possible, donate to libraries, sponsor readings, found journals, create websites.
  14. Read constantly. Meditate on your place in literature. Strive to write things that will add to or improve the whole of literature.

29 thoughts on “Fourteen Principles for Creative Writers

  1. Hi, Sam! I like this part. Sure.
    The principles have inspired me to write my own as well.
    Glad to read and explore your Beginner’s Mind blog.
    Happy time for writing! ^_^

  2. I love this post, all of it. Number 6 and 7 for sure. I apply this to my life so much, and this here makes me feel I am on the right/write path. Thanks so much. Saving your Blog to favorites, and I shall return, :), WS

    P.S. please pay my blog/site a visit, and the School of Poetry on the blog roll.. 🙂

    1. Thanks for the comment, WS, and thanks for stopping by! Glad to have you. 🙂

      I did check out your blog and the School of Poetry — both are very interesting! I love the way you combine images with poetry in your blog, and you have found some really exciting images. Thanks for sharing that!

  3. Thank you, 🙂 I love the way you think. I shall return again. Sam if you are interested in starting a class there, and add some posts, and fun let me know, I’d be happy to add you, and the rest of us there would love that. Have a good day, WS

    1. Thanks, David! That’s awesome! I really appreciate all of that — the compliments and the tweeting alike. And always nice to meet someone else in Texas. I have a lot of good friends and a couple of very cool cousins who live in Austin. It’s a good town.

      Also: I love a lot of your short fiction on your blog. “Zombie Clown Western“? That’s a killer story! Are any of those stories on your site in print anywhere, or just on your site? Because I know some folks who might be interested in some of your work, especially the humor and/or sci-fi stuff. Send me an email if you’re curious.

    1. Thanks! Let me know if there’s anything you’d like me to add to (or delete from) the site — I can’t promise I’ll get to it right away, but I’m always interested in reader feedback!

  4. Will definitely direct my writing questions to you when I have any.

    You already added some really important points here. I am happy that none of the writing “principles” you shared have anything to do with the intimidating writing “rules” some academics are obsessed with. Writing is an art and should be treated and approached as an art so I appreciate how you nurtured this aspect.

    Glad you were freshly pressed!

    1. There are lots and lots of guidelines and principles out there (one of my favorite recent lists is Bill Roorbach’s beautiful “30 ideas for writers“), but there are no rules. If there ever were rules, the best writers have been breaking them for millennia. I’m very much in favor of nurturing writing rather than “instructing” writing: for me, teaching is a nurturing, communicative act. No cookie cutters here!

      And yeah, fire away if you ever have questions. And hit up some of the other writer blogs I link to in the sidebar (Bill and Dave’s Cocktail Hour is a GREAT place to start!). 🙂

  5. Reading this has completely inspired me to start writing my own fiction again, for which I had completely lost steam. So for that gift, thank you. The main problem I had been facing was writing block.. and unable to find a way past it I procrastinated. What do you do when faced with that situation? That complete inability to even conjure the next sentence, let alone get anything onto paper?

    1. Ooh, what a long, long answer I could write! In fact, did write. I hate to short-change you with a simple link to an old post, but anything I could say now, I said then, so you might find this post interesting: “It was a dark and stormy writer’s block….

      Or maybe not. Nothing encourages writer’s block more than the unhelpful advice to simply keep writing! But it really is the best advice. So glad you’re diving back into fiction! Have fun with it, and keep us posted on your progress! 🙂

  6. Not at all short changed, just thank you for answering! Will definitely take a look. Having the will and motivation to write again is great, will definitely keep you up to date on any progress! 🙂

  7. “Nurture the written word”… great advice. I have to find more coffee houses in my area.

    Congratulations on being freshly pressed 🙂

  8. I love that this addresses both the teacher and the student in the writing community! I found this very helpful as someone who embraces both roles!!

  9. Hello! This is awesome! I am a teaching artist within the prison system with a visual arts background and have been put with the task of teaching a creative writing class (not my forte) I hope you don’t mind that I use these principles in my class. You will be cited.

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