Ten Commandments: Writer’s Edition

You didn’t hear it from us, but the angel Gabriel is a potty mouth

A sign overlooking a foggy country road reads "Thou Shalt Not Commit Adultery"; "Thou Shalt Not Kill"; "Thou Shalt Not Steal"; "Thou Shalt Not Bear False Witness"; "Thou Shalt Not Covet"
Photo by Sean Foster on Unsplash
  1. Thou shalt not worship any other gods. But it’s totally fine to fangirl if you meet Margaret Atwood. And go ahead and swoon over Hilary Mantel’s Wolf House. We’d worry about you if you didn’t weep while reading Toni Morrison. And there’s really no need to hide that Colleen Hoover romance behind a copy of The New York Review of Books. What do you think We read during the sermon? 
  2. Thou shalt not make any idols, nor binge tired shows like American Idol after you canceled mini-golf with your kid so you could write a secret history of Botox. Nor, after blowing off your best friend’s wedding to edit, shalt thou stream Iron Chef, which is a slippery slope that will surely lead to watching Chopped. 
  3. Thou shalt not take the Lord’s name in vain, unless the power goes out and you lose three paragraphs of your post-apocalyptic novel, Pluto’s Revenge: Shouldn’t Have Worried So Much About Asteroids. You didn’t hear it from Us, but the angel Gabriel is a total potty mouth. 
  4. Remember the Sabbath to keep it holy. Didn’t you say you were taking a social media break to finish your end-of-times fashion essay? So We were kind of surprised to see you in a TikTok video using a penknife to remove a questionable-looking mole. Yes, We realize it got seven hundred thousand views. Still. 
  5. Honor thy father and mother, but Jesus, there’s a limit. If your mother’s idea of a festive Christmas dinner was Oscar Meyer on Wonder Bread, you should write about it. The market for memoir is fucking crowded. 
  6. Thou shalt not murder another writer’s work in a review, neither in an obscure poetry journal printed on recycled Birkenstocks, nor on that giant on-line retailer whose delivery driver you see more often than your wife, nor even on one of those cruel reader-review sites. Nor shalt thou ever give fewer than four stars. And would it really kill you to give five? 
  7. Thou shalt not commit adultery. You have to keep the drama in your life to a minimum. You can’t expect to meet the deadline for your review of Top Gun 2052: Flying on Statins and Blood Thinners if you’re being doxxed by a computer-savvy spouse. 
  8. Thou shalt not steal from other writers, unless it’s in an homage or a parody, or unless the idea was pretty much out there in the universe and someone else just wrote it down first, or unless you quote and footnote, or paraphrase and footnote, but that’s kind of awkward in nonacademic writing, don’t you think? Also, is it really stealing if it’s from Wikipedia? 
  9. Thou shalt not bear false witness, except when blurbing another writer’s book. Then thou may stretch the truth and tell complete falsehoods and bald-faced lies, using words like “audacious” and “sublime,” and it is also permissible to lie about having read Ulysses and Infinite Jest if you own copies and have displayed them prominently on a crowded shelf, which is pretty much the same thing as reading them. 
  10. Thou shalt not covet another writer’s National Book Award, nor their place on the Booker shortlist, nor their two-book deal with a big five publisher, nor their top agent, nor their obscure agent who somehow managed to sell their book to Simon and Schuster, nor their MacDowell residency, nor their MacArthur genius grant, nor their Iowa MFA, unless it is the middle of the night and you are awake. If that’s the case, go ahead and hate them for a while before taking another Ambien. And if you just wished them congratulations on Twitter, you may silently hate them, as long as when you see their good news again on Facebook, you post the gif of Meryl Streep clapping.  

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