The Writer’s Decalogue: Ten* suggestions for writers, Augusto Monterroso

Augusto Monterroso (1921-2003) was most well known for his very short stories.  His story, “The Dinosaur,” is often referred to as the shortest short story in literature.  In Spanish, it has just seven words:

Cuando despertó, el dinosaurio todavía estaba allí.

When he awoke, the dinosaur was still there.

Other stories, like “The Eclipse” are a bit longer.

Monterroso wrote the “Decálogo del Escritor,” “The Writer’s Decalogue,” which actually has twelve rules.  I have translated it below:


The Writer’s Decalogue*


First.  When you have something to say, say it.  When you don’t, say it as well.  Write always.

Second.  Don’t write for your contemporaries and even less, as many do, for your ancestors.  Write for posterity, when you will doubtlessly be famous, because it is well known that posterity is always fair.

Third.  Under no circumstances forget the celebrated dictum: “in literature nothing is written.”

Fourth.  What you can say with 100 words, say with 100 words; what you can say with one, say with one.  Do not ever take the middle ground; never write anything with 50 words.

Fifth.  Even though it may not seem like it, writing is an art; being a writer is being an artist, like the trapeze artist, or the fighter par excellence, the one who fights with language; you must practice for this fight day and night.

Sixth.  Take advantage of disadvantages like insomnia, prison, or poverty; the first made Baudelaire, the second made Pellico, and the third made all of your writer friends.  Avoid sleeping like Homer, the tranquil life of Byron, or earning as much as Bloy.

Seventh.  Don’t pursue success.  Success destroyed Cervantes, who was a good novelist up to Don Quixote.  Even though success is always inevitable, try to shoot for failure from time to time, to sadden your friends.

Eighth.  Acquire an intelligent audience, which is easier to find among the rich and powerful.  In this way you will never lack for the understanding and stimulus that comes from only these two sources.

Ninth.  Believe in yourself, but not too much; have self-doubt, but not too much.  When in doubt, believe; when you believe, doubt.  This is the only true wisdom for the writer.

Tenth.  Try to say things in a way that the reader will always feel that he or she is at least as or more intelligent than you are.  Once in a while try to make this indeed be true; but for this you need to be more intelligent than the reader.

Eleventh.  Don’t forget your readers’ feelings.  As a rule, feelings are the best thing they have to offer; unlike you, who has no feelings, otherwise you would not be trying to become a writer.

Twelfth.  Again with the reader.  The better you write, the more readers you will have; while you give them increasingly refined pieces, a larger number of people will appreciate your creations; if you write for the masses you will never be popular and nobody will try to touch your clothing on the street, or point at you in the supermarket.


* The author gives the writer the option of discarding two of these statements and keep the remaining ten.