There is popular lore that novel Leaving Las Vegas was author John O’Brien’s “suicide note,” and that he killed himself upon learning that his book would be made into a movie. The idea of Leaving Las Vegas being a suicide note unintentionally originated with a letter O’Brien’s sister Erin wrote to Nicolas Cage after John O’Brien’s death, and with a New York Times article that claims his father also called the book his suicide note. It’s an poetic idea, but it seems to oversimplify the life and literary ambitions of John O’Brien.

In 2010 author Zadie Smith offered these 10 tips for writing as part of a project for The Guardian inspired by a similar list Elmore Leonard provided The NY Times 10 years earlier. Other authors participated in this exercise, but Zadie’s was the one I found on Tumblr today, and it stopped me dead in my tracks with it’s leveling wisdom. Numbers four, nine, and ten can apply to absolutely anything in life, but number three gets down to the core of it: “You can either write good sentences or you can’t.”