“There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one know what they are.” – W. Somerset Maugham
A friend of mine share this quote the other day and it got me thinking. What are the rules for writing a novel? You know, aside from the obvious grammar rules (that I’m still attempting to master) and the no stealing other authors’ work rule. But you know, the beautiful thing about any form of art is that no one artist creates in the same way. We all have our own different styles, our own different ideas, and our own different rules when it comes to our crafts.
This particular quote got me thinking about what my rules for writing a novel are.
- Write the book you want to read. It’s been said a million times over, but it’s so true. If you don’t enjoy what you’re writing, chances are your readers won’t either. How you feel about your book is reflected in your work.
- Characters, characters, characters. For me, characters are what make a story. Setting is great and plot is a must, but if you can’t relate to the characters, if they don’t seem real, if you’re not rooting for them… It’s just not going to work. If I don’t like my characters or the characters of a book I’m reading, I simply won’t continue writing or reading. I once read a book with a beautiful cover, a great story, and it was exceptionally well-written. But I couldn’t finish it because I hated the characters.
- Trust your work, trust your story, and trust yourself. It’s true what they say about stories writing themselves. Sometimes I feel like the story already exists, it just needs my fingers to type it all out. I’m still surprised by how many unexpected twists and turns my books often take. I’ve written full paragraphs of dialogue that I had no idea existed inside my mind.
- Don’t be afraid to start over. I once wrote over half a novel, realized that the story wasn’t going anywhere, that it wasn’t even really a story, and I started over from scratch. I didn’t delete what I had written. I never do that. But when you write a book, you’ve got to accept that you’re not always going to get it right the first time.
- Be patient. Yeah, some geniuses can churn out a bestseller in two weeks, but for most of us, it takes months, even years, to write a book. And there’s no shame in that. We care about our craft and want our books to be the best they can be. Like anything worth doing, writing a book takes a lot of time, a lot of dedication, and a lot of hard work.
- Don’t write because you think it’s going to make you rich or famous. I mean, yeah, we all dream of seeing our names at the top of that NYT Bestseller list, but I would still write my stories even if I was the wealthiest person in the world, and it’s because I love it. I love to write. I love to tell stories. If you write for the wrong reasons, you’re not going to enjoy it. And you’re more than likely going to wind up disappointed. Because guess what? Most of us are not rich. And that’s okay. I’d rather live paycheck to paycheck doing what I love than make a fortune working a job that makes me miserable.
- Don’t forget to be thankful. You’ve found something that you love, that you want to do for the rest of your life. Believe it or not, that’s actually pretty rare. I’ve met so many people who have no idea what they want out of life or what they want to do. I’ve always had big dreams. I was lucky enough to figure out that I wanted to be an author when I was a junior in college. I knew what I wanted to work for and once I figured that out, I didn’t look back. I figure that if I’m fortunate enough to know, I’d regret it if I didn’t take every chance and every opportunity to make it work.
- Be proud of yourself and your work. You wrote a book. That’s pretty badass.
- Writer’s block happens. It happens to the best of us. Don’t let it discourage you. If you need to set one project aside and go concentrate on another, that’s exactly what you should do. Chances are when you come back to your original project, you’ll be able to pick up again and keep writing.
What are your rules for writing?