The Townhouse of Ideas

Why I Am Sometimes Hesitant To Give Writerly Advice

There’s a whole cottage industry out there concerning writerly advice. Many, many blogs feature everything novice writers “must” and “should never” do. Frankly, if I were a novice, I’d be so confused that I couldn’t write one word, out of fear that I’d be doing something wrong.

I’m going to tell you a secret—or rather, I’m going to quote W.S. Maugham:

“There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.”

― W. Somerset Maugham

This is the honest truth about writing. No one—no matter how rich, how well-known, nor how influential—knows the rules of writing, because, honestly, there are no hard and fast rules concerning writing.

What there are, instead, are good suggestions. You need to weigh those good suggestions and ask, each time, “Does this suggestion work for me?”

But “10 Good Suggestions For Writing A Great Novel” isn’t a very clickbait title, is it?

In the end, these “rules” are just suggestions that you should take with a huge grain of salt.

Look, I get it. You’re just starting out, so you’re desperate to figure out if you’re doing it right. You want a recipe for writing a novel. But novels are not something you can write with a checklist. Novels are something you write by instinct. Only experience can help you become a good writer. Only by getting your hands dirty can you know how to write a book—in other words, learn by doing.

You have to find your own methodology for writing. No one can do that for you. You learn by trial, error, and infinite patience.

So, I’m hesitant to give you writerly advice, as that makes it sound like I have the secrets to good writing, and that if you read my suggestions, you’ll become a great writer.

That’s not how it works. If I had the secrets, I’d give them to you.

But I do have “getting my hands dirty” experience, so I’ll give you what I’ve learned. If what I’ve learned applies to you, take what you need. If it doesn’t, go with what works for you.

However, since I’m thinking about these “three rules of writing a novel,” I’ll give you what I’ve learned:

“Rule” 1: Never bore your reader.

“Rule” 2: Never betray your reader’s trust.

“Rule” 3: If your ending doesn’t satisfy the reader, they won’t come back to read your next novel.

So, I’ll keep writing out my suggestions, but remember this: Don’t try to follow perfectly in my footsteps. I’m a stranger here myself—because every time I write a story, I’m back to square one. Every story of mine requires a new perspective and a new methodology. I’m fortunate enough to have the skills that I’ve learned by doing, but every story is still virgin territory for me. That’s what makes writing exciting.

I have no road maps to help you write a perfect book. But I do have experience, which I’m glad to share with you.

Let’s learn together.