The Last Advice You'll Ever Need on How to Write Fiction

There was a time when folks who did what I'm about to do by self-publishing a book were roundly mocked by anyone in-the-know. Vanity publishing was about just that -- vanity -- and was reserved almost exclusively for the sort of hack who couldn't write his way out of a paper bag. But with the barrier to entry into traditional publishing having grown so high; and with the advent of universally-accessible new print-on-demand technology... Well, it's now a very different story (heh, heh).

Now, I can put my own book out with only a smidge of shame. Now, I don't worry quite so much about what that says about the quality of my work. This makes me feel smug. Like I know something. And with a pretentious title like the one I've slapped on this post, you'd better hope I've got something pretty spectacular to share.

I do.

It's a link. A link to a Guardian article I'd read a long time ago, but that was recently brought back to my attention by a friend on Facebook. In it is a compilation of "Ten Rules for Writing Fiction," by a whole mess of the world's best fiction writers. Here, GO READ IT.

The chap who reminded me of it today said his favorite list was by Neil Gaiman, and I think you could do worse, fershure. So in case you're interested but too lazy to click a link (what's wrong with you!?), here are Gaiman's Ten:

1 Write.
2 Put one word after another. Find the right word, put it down.
3 Finish what you're writing. Whatever you have to do to finish it, finish it.
4 Put it aside. Read it pretending you've never read it before. Show it to friends whose opinion you respect and who like the kind of thing that this is.
5 Remember: when people tell you something's wrong or doesn't work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.
6 Fix it. Remember that, sooner or later, before it ever reaches perfection, you will have to let it go and move on and start to write the next thing. Perfection is like chasing the horizon. Keep moving.
7 Laugh at your own jokes.
8 The main rule of writing is that if you do it with enough assurance and confidence, you're allowed to do whatever you like. (That may be a rule for life as well as for writing. But it's definitely true for writing.) So write your story as it needs to be written. Write it ­honestly, and tell it as best you can. I'm not sure that there are any other rules. Not ones that matter.


  1. Number 3 is the one I struggle with most. It takes a herculean effort for me to finish projects.

  2. As precisely the sort of hack who couldn't write his way out of a paper bag, I've found that the structure, camaraderie and lack of pressure of events like Nanowrimo ( help me greatly with bullet points 1 - 3. Granted, it's rarely the right word that gets placed after the previous one, but there are a large amount of words in there that not once, but twice managed to be cobbled together into spectacularly so-bad-they're-good novels. I can forgive myself for writing prose that I would never ever choose to read because the writing takes a back seat to the feeling of accomplishment, of finishing something I'd determinedly set out to do. Writing a readable book wasn't part of the deal.

    On the other hand, the failure of writing my first "serious" - that is, written with the specific intent of changing the lives of the downtrodden tired masses, being chased by publishers, flown across the world for book signings and answering Oprah's eager questions in front of a crowd of admirers - book is still a trauma I've yet to recover from, even after several years. I printed it out, re-read it, came to the conclusion that it was unsalvageable rubbish, deleted any electronic evidence of it, and mailed it to a fictional address in Siberia.

    If all goes according to plan, some day long after I'm dead, little Pavel is going to make a fortune off of it.

  3. Ha, ha. Yeah Steven... the first book I wrote was a mess. I took a half-hearted stab at a rewrite about a year later, but then consigned it to the dust bin of history. This one, I think, is actually worth reading. We'll see what the critics think :)

    And Mark... it is a Herculean task, indeed. But for me, I've found that the process of re-writing it to as close to perfection as I can get without killing myself is something exponentially more difficult. Honestly, I don't know how career writers survive.

    But the writing is as finished as it's going to be, I think, and I'm proud of it. Almost there.

  4. This link is also helpful:


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