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Black and white photograph of Nietzsche in profile.

Nietzsche's 10 Rules For Writing


Nietzsche on the clarity of ideas and authentic commitment.

Between the 18th and the 24th of August 1882, Friedrich Nietzsche comprised ten rules for writing in a type of manual that aimed to set the foundations for correct, clear and genuine writing.

The decalogue was sent by the philosopher through letters he wrote to Lou Andreas-Salomé, a Russian intellectual, writer and psychoanalyst, who was the muse of many thinkers and artists of the time ––according to some, Rainer Maria Rilke and Sigmund Freud were in love with her. Nietzsche made her his protégée and proposed to her on their second encounter; she rejected him and their friendship ended, but she always regarded the philosopher and his work with great respect.

It would be precisely Lou Andreas-Salomé who, more than 20 years later, would publish this decalogue entitled Toward the Teaching of Style.

In these ten rules we can perceive a taste for aphorism, for dark concepts, and an evidently philosophical vein, in particular when Nietzsche speaks of life and ideas themselves —with which, according to him, one must always be committed to. The philosopher also stresses the importance of the writer considering the reader when he writes.

Below, the philosopher’s decalogue:

  1. Of prime necessity is life: a style should live.
  2. Style should be suited to the specific person with whom you wish to communicate. (The law of mutual relation.)
  3. First, one must determine precisely “what-and-what do I wish to say and present,” before you may write. Writing must be mimicry.
  4. Since the writer lacks many of the speaker’s means, he must in general have for his model a very expressive kind of presentation of necessity, the written copy will appear much paler.
  5. The richness of life reveals itself through a richness of gestures. One must learn to feel everything — the length and retarding of sentences, interpunctuations, the choice of words, the pausing, the sequence of arguments— like gestures.
  6. Be careful with periods! Only those people who also have long duration of breath while speaking are entitled to periods. With most people, the period is a matter of affectation.
  7. Style ought to prove that one believes in an idea; not only that one thinks it but also feels it.
  8. The more abstract a truth which one wishes to teach, the more one must first entice the senses.
  9. Strategy on the part of the good writer of prose consists of choosing his means for stepping close to poetry but never stepping into it.
  10. It is not good manners or clever to deprive one’s reader of the most obvious objections. It is very good manners and very clever to leave it to one’s reader alone to pronounce the ultimate quintessence of our wisdom.

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