The Nihilisticle: Nietzsche’s 10 Rules for Writers

Before “37 Totally Awesome Lemurs,” before “23 Things Every Who Grew Up in [insert terrible hometown] Knows” and before everyone became obsessed with  rules for writing according to revered authors, there was Friedrich Nietzsche and a simple listicle he wrote to  friend.

The famous ponderer of nihilism and morality, in a series of letters from August 1882, laid out his thoughts on writing to his unrequited love, Lou Andreas-Salomé.

The list reads:

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.

Lou Andreas-Salomé was an author and psychoanalyst whom Nietzsche regarded as a gifted student. Nietzsche, allegedly, asked her to marry him after knowing each other for two months. Salomé  wouldn’t have been the only woman to reject Nietzsche, it’s reported that his mustache frightened woman,  and a case of syphilis he caught in college didn’t exactly add to his case.

They still, however, took this epic photo together.

nietzsche whipThe list comes from the book “Nietzsche,”  written by Salomé long after their friendship had ended. It provides a retrospective of Nietzsche’s life and philosophical career.

[H/T Brain Pickings]

  • carlalex75

    Nietzsche is another word for micro-penis…..

    • AJ Sims

      carlaxex is another word for imbecile

      seriously, what a childish comment

    • Cedric Scarlatti

      I cannot imagine that this is what comes to your micro-mind when you hear about Nietzsche !?!

    • Federico Salinas

      If you read him and this is what you think, you simply don’t get it. Live a lot, question yourself alot, make mistakes, reflect on them … and then read Nietzsche: You just might understand him then.

  • Geofrey Crow

    This is a brilliant little list. It goes deep, the way most advice on writing doesn’t. Numbers 9 and 10 seem to be the real gems… but what could number 6 possibly be getting at?

    • Robert J Wells

      I wanted to learn more about the same thing. Perhaps it has a note or some clarification in Salome’s book?

      • Cedric Scarlatti

        All I can say is that Salome’s writing isn’t as exciting as Nietzsche’s writing.

    • VagueSuperset

      I believe the source may be in his original college professorship in philology. Studying ancient greek, there is no punctuation, or spaces between words for that matter. here the ends of sentences are implied and felt without periods. thus periods ought to be used only at the natural ends of sentences? = my best guess

    • Federico Salinas

      I think he’s right: Periods are a bit pompous and overused; they give in to our need for control and parcelling thought into morsels even though reality is fluid and complex …

      • Collin237

        Firstly, it’s communication (of two or more people), not thought (of one person), that’s being parcelled. Secondly, it’s because communication needs to remain understandable while moving through a “fluid” that parcelling is necessary.

  • weedpuller

    self serving Baloney by a man who thought he was Zarathustra, the reincarnation of Jesus!

    • AJ Sims

      get the fuck out. if thats what you got from friedrich nietzsche (and thats even assuming you even read any of his works at all), then his philosophy went completely over your head

      • weedpuller

        Neitzsche is a controversial brilliant thinker but his moral theory lacks intellectual integrity as do most existentialists . Have studied Neitzsche over 40 years starting at MIT in 1970. The fact that you are offended pleases me. lol

        • AJ Sims

          what makes you think im offended, because i said get the fuck out? thats just me being the blunt vocal person i am. if you have to tell me that you’re pleased by me being offended, then it seems you’re the one thats offended, not me. “Neitzsche is a controversial brilliant thinker but his moral theory lacks intellectual integrity as do most existentialists” what do you even mean by this? eleborate, give me some examples of how his moral theory “lacks intellectual integrity”

          • weedpuller

            AJ, Stop the tu quoque style of argumentation, bec it only points out your defective thinking and the deficiencies in your understanding of N!

          • AJ Sims

            “Stop the tu quoque style of argumentation” this makes no sense. do you even know what tu quoque even means? no where did i commit this fallacy. also, i love how you’ve completely deflected my question i’ve asked at the end of my post too. i’m still waiting for an answer to that.

  • theassailedteacher

    I don’t think Nietzsche considered himself Zarathustra or Jesus, nor do I think his readers have micro-penises. His books reflect sensitivity and humanity. He was able to look at things, and destroy things, from several different perspectives. This is part of the reason he wrote in aphorism, since each aphorism represented a different perspective. As someone with a history degree, this style fits well with my own way of thinking. The best history seeks to approach things from different perspectives so that there is no “truth” per se, just perspectives on what the truth is. This is why Nietzsche can seem contradictory. He WAS contradictory and that was sort of one of the major points of his philosophy.

    His reputation has been shaped (and sullied) by a few things, First, his break with reality most likely brought on by his syphilis. He wrote many alarming and strange letters to associates in the days leading to his breakdown. Second, his sister collected his unpublished writings, edited them and added to it so she make Nietzsche conform to her own ideology. Too bad she was a proto-Nazi at the time and a raving anti-Semite (which Nietzsche was NOT.) Finally, Hitlers misappropriation of Nietzsche did not do the thinker any favors in the post-war era.

    Walter Kaufmann’s book about Nietzsche is an excellent place to start if you want to make sense of Nietzsche’s role in western thought. In my opinion, The Gay Science is the one book that encapsulates what Nietzsche was about better than any of his other works.

    • Cedric Scarlatti

      Nice to see that there still exist people who read and understand what Nietzsche is about ! His writing is still so alive and his sense of humor says it all .

    • Eric Migom

      I totaly agree with your vision of a poet who was, I believe, a bridge between Occident and orient. He accepted the risk of creating order in&by chaos.

    • Federico Salinas

      Exactly. I think your reading of Nietzsche is spot on. The 18-yr old kids who read him and work themselves up to a frenzy of egotistical masturbation are utterly unable to understand him. I like Freud’s description of Nietzsche: “I’ve never known anyone who understood himself better”. Voila: A self-psychoanalyzed person who was able to shift angles when considering things.

  • Frederic Honinblost

    So about the nihilism. And that’s about it. Because discussion with somone who writes this idiotic epitheth is no one to discuss it with. Of all the phillosphers that you can imagine that are nihilistic you choose one that conceived himself as someone with a mission? To challange morality of the world? And that’s nihilistic? Then, Plato is nihilistic? Kant is nihilistic? Heidegger is nihilistic? No, because their language wasn’t so intense and mindblowing, so you can slade of the facade of the form instead of having some thought over the thesis presented, ideas misunderstood. Great list for XIX century by the way.

  • VagueSuperset

    didn’t die of syphilis! the symptomatology was all wrong, much more likely is a type of frontal-lobe dementia, possibly brought on by tumor, or more likely by a prevailing condition of bipolarity. syphilis was only the original diagnosis at the time of death, and in 1899 most organic brain disorders were not well understood, while syphilis was widespread. Nietzsche most likely died a virgin. there is an anecdote that comes to mind of his friends taking him to a brothel, and of his being so inept that he opted to play the piano for the duration of his visit.

  • ItzQuauhtli

    LoL – Zarathustra has very little to do with Jesus. It is in fact an epithet of the Persian prophet Zoroaster, whom as archaeologists are confirming, was the true originator of the three Monotheistic Religions. Nietzche, being a philologist, figured this out far ahead of anyone else and part of what he meant by saying “God is dead” is that religious people don’t even know what they’re worshipping, which renders their faith moot. In this sense he was certainly a prophet far ahead of his time.

  • mrjo

    My goal in life is to be as much of a ladies man and stud as Nietzsche. Any suggestions??

  • ابراهيم السعدي

    الوصول إلى أفضل طريق النجاح والتفوق و التميز. إمكانية هذا المفهوم وكيفيات تحققه معرفيا ووجوديا؛ كن معى للتفاعل، .مسترشدا بشخص المبدع ابراهيم السعدي..: ……. ….. … عن فن تطبيقات منهجه الفلسفي : ……. ……… … .. للإبداع.. و للخلاصات الفلسفية و المنطقية سعي متواصل لبلوغ أقصى درجات الوضوح و التميز. . والإبداع.و. اعمال يدوية فنية و أعمال متنوعة للفنون المصرية القديمة، والفن الإسلامي .)))

  • ابراهيم السعدي

    •● روائع الاشغال الفنية مسترشدا بشخص المبدع ابراهيم السعدي..: ……. سعي متواصل لبلوغ أقصى درجات الوضوح و التميز. . . اعمال يدوية فنية و أعمال متنوعة للفنون المصرية القديمة، والفن الإسلامي .)))

  • ابراهيم السعدي

    أهلا بكم في حشد الطاقات بعقلانية فلسفيه علميًّا وعمليًّا، .مسترشدا بشخص المبدع ابراهيم السعدي.. نحو حداثة متعددة الثقافات

  • ابراهيم السعدي

    الوصول إلى أفضل طريق النجاح والتفوق و التميز. إمكانية هذا المفهوم وكيفيات تحققه معرفيا ووجوديا؛ كن معى للتفاعل، .مسترشدا بشخص المبدع ابراهيم السعدي..: ……. ….. … عن فن تطبيقات منهجه الفلسفي : ……. ……… … .. للإبداع.. و للخلاصات الفلسفية و المنطقية سعي متواصل لبلوغ أقصى درجات الوضوح و التميز. . والإبداع.و. اعمال يدوية فنية و أعمال متنوعة للفنون المصرية القديمة، والفن الإسلامي .)))

  • ابراهيم السعدي

    ‫نزهة المبدع ابراهيم السعدي ( المفسر لفن التفلسف كن معى معاً‬ … لنرتقي بفكرنا ولتكن نظرتنا للأمور من زاوية مختلفة….

  • ابراهيم السعدي

    ♪ ♪ * •. • * ¨¨ * •. • * • ♪ ♪ المتعة ¸. • * ¨¨ * •. • * • ♪ ♪ • ث ث * أنآ،،، ♪ ♪ * •. • * ¨¨ * •. • * • ♪ ♪ إن كنت تريد أن تكون سعيداً ، كن مع المبدع ابراهيم السعدي للإبداع.. و الفن الــــــــــــــــــــشــــــــعــــــــــبي والابتكار
    تغريد فكري خارج الحدود التقليدية . توحيد الرؤى المناسبة… * الفنون والجمال. و فصاحه و مهارة . والإبداع.. والمروءة.. و الحقيقة .. ..وشهامة وبهاء. وخواطر لإرضاء ذائقتكم معا، يمكننا حل لغز الحياة * الدوافع الذهبية للتفاعل مع ( مجموعة اتقن فن التفلسف مسترشدا بشخص المبدع ابراهيم السعدي ) ♪ ♪ * •. • * ¨¨ * •. • * • ♪ ♪ المتعة ¸. • * ¨¨ * •. • * • ♪ ♪ • ث ث * أنآ،،، ♪ ♪ * •. • * ¨¨ * •. • * • ♪ ♪

  • ابراهيم السعدي

    بتحب الخط العربي ونفسيك تتقنه .‏ •● روائع الاشغال الفنية مسترشدا بشخص المبدع ابراهيم السعدي..: ……. سعي متواصل لبلوغ أقصى درجات الوضوح و التميز. . . اعمال يدوية فنية و أعمال متنوعة للفنون المصرية القديمة، والفن الإسلامي .))) ╚► •••●►”·٠•

  • ابراهيم السعدي

    •● روائع الاشغال الفنية مسترشدا بشخص المبدع ابراهيم السعدي..: ……. سعي متواصل لبلوغ أقصى درجات الوضوح و التميز. . والإبداع.و. اعمال يدوية فنية و أعمال متنوعة للفنون المصرية القديمة، والفن الإسلامي .)))

  • ابراهيم السعدي

    رؤيةً على درجة عالية من الطرافة الفكرية والمتانة المعرفية، ، نحن هنا نبحث عن منزلة معرفية ونجتهد في الاستفادة من منجزات المبدع ابراهيم السعدي خبير

    خطوط وفنان ومدون وناشط و منفذ لوحات اعلانية وصاحب منشئة (انتيكات السعدي) لبيع وتصنيع وشراء جميع انواع الانتيكات _ اعمال يدوية فنية للمساهمة في ترسيخ الوعي الجمالي والذوق الرفيع والتدرب على آليات الفكر النقدي الحر

    مهمة تتجلى في. تبادل الافكار^ النقاش الجاد ^ الحوار البناء

  • George Kosich

    Nietzsche would take the MASK off of things. Liked to expose real motives, goals, agendas, etc. of people, institutions, ideologies, etc. Some egotistical people resented him for his honesty. He was misunderstood by many. Read him over and over and eventually you will see where he’s coming from.