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.  Originally published here.

  1. 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 compassion. Do not write things 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.
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