Image by Petar Milošević

1. Make sure you enjoy writing.

Writ­ers always like to say how hard the writ­ing process is and how much suf­fer­ing it caus­es. They’re lying. Peo­ple don’t like to admit they make a liv­ing from some­thing they gen­uine­ly enjoy.

Writ­ing is a way to live anoth­er life. Many oth­er lives. The lives of count­less peo­ple whom you’ve nev­er been, but who are com­plete­ly you. Every time you sit down and face a page and try — even if you don’t suc­ceed — be grate­ful for the oppor­tu­ni­ty to expand the scope of your life. It’s fun. It’s groovy. It’s dandy. And don’t let any­one tell you otherwise.

2. Love your characters.

For a char­ac­ter to be real, there has to be at least one per­son in this world capa­ble of lov­ing it and under­stand­ing it, whether they like what the char­ac­ter does or not. You’re the moth­er and the father of the char­ac­ters you cre­ate. If you can’t love them, nobody can.

3. When you’re writ­ing, you don’t owe any­thing to anyone.

In real life, if you don’t behave your­self, you’ll wind up in jail or in an insti­tu­tion, but in writ­ing, any­thing goes. If there’s a char­ac­ter in your sto­ry who appeals to you, kiss it. If there’s a car­pet in your sto­ry that you hate, set fire to it right in the mid­dle of the liv­ing room. When it comes to writ­ing, you can destroy entire plan­ets and erad­i­cate whole civ­i­liza­tions with the click of a key, and an hour lat­er, when the old lady from the floor below sees you in the hall­way, she’ll still say hello.

4. Always start from the middle.

The begin­ning is like the scorched edge of a cake that’s touched the cake pan. You may need it just to get going, but it isn’t real­ly edible.

5. Try not to know how it ends.

Curios­i­ty is a pow­er­ful force. Don’t let go of it. When you’re about to write a sto­ry or a chap­ter, take con­trol of the sit­u­a­tion and of your char­ac­ters’ motives, but always let your­self be sur­prised by the twists in the plot.

6. Don’t use any­thing just because that’s how it always is.”

Para­graph­ing, quo­ta­tion marks, char­ac­ters that still go by the same name even though you’ve turned the page: all those are just con­ven­tions that exist to serve you. If they don’t work, for­get about them. The fact that a par­tic­u­lar rule applies in every book you’ve ever read doesn’t mean it has to apply in your book too.

7. Write like yourself.

If you try to write like Nabokov, there will always be at least one per­son (whose name is Nabokov) who’ll do it bet­ter than you. But when it comes to writ­ing the way you do, you’ll always be the world cham­pi­on at being your­self.

8. Make sure you’re all alone in the room when you write.

Even if writ­ing in cafés sounds roman­tic, hav­ing oth­er peo­ple around you is like­ly to make you con­form, whether you real­ize it or not. When there’s nobody around, you can talk to your­self or pick your nose with­out even being aware of it. Writ­ing can be a kind of nose-pick­ing, and when there are peo­ple around, the task may become less natural.

9. Let peo­ple who like what you write encour­age you.

And try to ignore all the oth­ers. What­ev­er you’ve writ­ten is sim­ply not for them. Nev­er mind. There are plen­ty of oth­er writ­ers in the world. If they look hard enough, they’re bound to find one who meets their expectations.

10. Hear what every­one has to say but don’t lis­ten to any­one (except me).

Writ­ing is the most pri­vate ter­ri­to­ry in the world. Just as nobody can real­ly teach you how you like your cof­fee, so nobody can real­ly teach you how to write. If some­one gives you a piece of advice that sounds right and feels right, use it. If some­one gives you a piece of advice that sounds right and feels wrong, don’t waste so much as a sin­gle sec­ond on it. It may be fine for some­one else, but not for you.

This essay orig­i­nal­ly appeared in Rook­ie magazine.

Born in Tel Aviv in 1967, Etgar Keret is a lead­ing voice in Israeli lit­er­a­ture and cin­e­ma. His five best­selling sto­ry col­lec­tions have been trans­lat­ed into 46 lan­guages. His writ­ing has been pub­lished in The New York Times, Le Monde, The Guardian, The New York­er, The Paris Review, and Esquire. He has also writ­ten a num­ber of screen­plays, and Jel­ly­fish, his first film as a direc­tor along­side his wife Shi­ra Gef­fen, won the Caméra d’Or prize for the best first fea­ture at Cannes in 2007. Keret and Gef­fen’s mini-series The Mid­dle­man” (2019) won the best screen­play award at La Rochelle fic­tion TV fes­ti­val in France. In 2010 Keret was award­ed the Cheva­lier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Let­tres, and in 2016 he won the Bronf­man Prize. His lat­est col­lec­tion, Fly Already won the most pres­ti­gious lit­er­ary award in Israel- the Sapir prize (2018).