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10 rules for writing (dogless, well-nourished) fiction

1. Never snack while writing; consume only complete meals - a starch, two vegetables and one serving lean protein (remember that one serving is about the size of a pack of playing cards.)

2. Marry somebody who will cook this.

3. When revising, consider whether you have written anything that will hurt or offend a member of your immediate family. If the answer is no, go back and add something.

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4. It's doubtful that any fiction worth reading has been produced on a computer running Windows Vista.

5. Keep a copy of Islands in the Stream by Ernest Hemingway on the left hand side of your desk. Keep Fitzgerald's The Crack Up on the right. When you get stuck, pick them up and pretend that they are having a fight, like you used to do with your GI Joes. Just sort of bash them together for a while.

6. Never use dogs to symbolize anything. That is ridiculous. Always ensure that any dogs are just dogs; i.e., characters in the story who happen to be dogs.

7. Actually, never write about dogs.

8. And it probably is a good idea to avoid symbolism.

9. If an irate reader should break into your home, tie you to a chair and terrorize you with selections from the cutlery drawer, think back to your most recent novel. Was its point of view inconsistent? Did you at any time make use of the second person, or urban slang, even ironically? Did you attempt to underscore the significance of an action by describing it as having been performed "to the max"? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, accept what you have coming.

10. Remember: Writing is freedom.

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Lynn Coady is the award-winning author of the novels Strange Heaven and Mean Boy, with another one currently in the oven. She also writes the Group Therapy column in Globe Life.

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