Catapult Instructors

Karen Bender’s Patented Ten Commandments for Becoming a Writer

Karen shares practical, easy-to-implement steps to become a writer.

Karen Benders short story collection Refund was a finalist for the National Book Award and shortlisted for the Frank O’Connor International Story Prize. She is also the author of the novels Like Normal People and A Town of Empty Rooms. Her short stories have appeared in The New Yorker, Granta, Ploughshares, Zoetrope, Guernica, and Best American Short Stories and won two Pushcart prizes. She is the Distinguished Visiting Professor of Creative Writing at Hollins University, and has also worked with MFA students at Warren Wilson College, Chatham University, and Antioch Los Angeles.

We’re delighted that Karen is one of our writing consultants, working one-on-one with writers and providing individualized feedback on their projects. Think she could help you with your latest project? Apply for a consultation with her here.

Below, Karen shares her practical, easy-to-implement steps anyone can take to become a writer.


Karen Benders Patented Ten Commandments for Becoming a Writer

1. Write.

2. Create a writing schedule for yourself. (Writing an hour a day or a page a day or every other day—whatever feels right.) Try to stick to it. Watch your work grow.

3. Feel how it feels when the writings going well. Remember that feeling. It will come back.

4. Pretend youre a great writer. Do whatever you need to further this idea. Buy a scarf a great writer would wear. Make up a great writer name. Write a line you think a great writer would write. Write a story you think a great writer would write.

5. Do not show your work to anyone who says things like: “Well, its not as good as Shakespeare” or, similarly, “Its better than Shakespeare!” Do not show your work to anyone who says, “Why are you doing this?” or “Why do you want to write about these people?” or anything that makes you doubt your work.

6. Read. Reread works that you loved as a child. Read new works that people recommend. Don’t feel like you have to like a book because everyone else does.

7. Understand that when you write something honest—whether it is funny or sad or angry or whatever—it will help the person who reads it, for that person will probably have experienced something like that, too.

8. Find one or two writing buddies who will read your work for you. Call these people when you’re feeling down about your writing, or up, or anything.

9. Learn patience. View rewriting as simply a task. Look for whats working. Then think: What do I want to try to do another way? Rewriting means taking one thing at a time—its just doing a job.

10. Remember that only YOU can write down your version of the world.