Learn from the Best

One of my favorite authors is Howard Bahr, a writer who has taught literature and creative writing at Mississippi and Tennessee colleges and universities. He was curator of the William Faulkner house in Oxford, Mississippi for 20 years, served in the navy, and worked for railroads after his military service. Two of his novels, The Black Flower and Pelican Road, rank among my personal top 25 books. I’ve been fortunate to occasionally correspond with him, and knowing I was an aspiring writer, he sent me the following: “Uncle Howard’s Ten Commandments for his Students Wandering in the Wilderness.” I cannot recommend his writing strongly enough since he one of today’s most moving and sensitive authors.

  1. Thou shalt not be afraid, neither shalt thou be daunted.
  2. Thou shalt take chances.
  3. Thou shalt study the world about thee: he who hath ears, let him hear; he who hath eyes, let him see.
  4. Thou shalt steal liberally from thy neighbors, godly and ungodly alike, and from thy friends and kinsmen: their stories, their sayings, their manner of speech and dress.
  5. Howbeit, thou shalt not steal from thy fellow artists, unless they giveth thee the green light.
  6. Keep holy the writing time, for it is sacred and belongs to thee alone and no other. Likewise, the talent, a precious gift from Providence.
  7. Thou shalt create a world out of the firmament, and lo, it shall be peopled with men and women, with beasts of the field and birds of the air, with trees and houses and gardens with taverns and funeral parlors and automobiles – with all good things that Providence hath shown thee. And thou shalt sublimate this world so that even the most common thing is robed in wonder and light. And this world shalt be real so the reader looketh thereon and say unto thee: Behold, I am with thee, even unto the end of this thou hast made.
  8. And out of the dust of the earth shalt thou create them: men, women, drunks and dope-fiends, tree-huggers and cheerleaders, suckling babes (though not too many), the infirm and the insane, the evil and the good, the ugly and the beautiful, and thou shalt love them all, even as the Good God loves his own. This thou shalt do so that, by the power of thine own love, the Reader will love them too, and say unto thee: I care about these who thou hast made, no matter how humble, for thou hast exalted them.
  9. Remember thou comest not to bring peace, but to stir up the hearts of men with conflict. Thou shalt create all manner of chaos and trouble, for without these, there can be no story.
  10. Honor thy reader.