Wednesday, 23 February 2011


Fellow Bloomsbury ‘Baby’, Claire King, writes on her brilliant blog her fifteen absolutely, must follow, rules for writers of novels.

“Once you have rewritten your manuscript according to the above rules, (she says) it will be ready to blend in with others on the slushpile.”
Ha!! Love this.

So here are my own, sort of, think about it, fifteen rules, or not, perhaps. Because as we all know, those who say there are rules, admit there are actually none. And those who say there are none, know there are lots.

1. Begin. It is very tough to write a novel unless you begin. Ergo, a blank screen with the words ‘Chapter One’ in varying fonts towards the top will make a useful start.
2. Save document. External hard drives are good. So is sending every paragraph to yourself via multiple email accounts created for the purpose. Nice to receive all those emails! Writing is a lonely occupation – pretend you have friends.
3. Continue. By this I mean open a lot of different documents with the words ‘Chapter Two’ and so forth.
4. Save all documents again.
5. Time to ring all your real friends, and selected family members, to tell them you are writing a novel!
6. Order new business cards from Vistaprint on special offer, styling yourself ‘novelist’.
7. Look up rules for writing novels. Discover that they all contradict each other. Fall into a depression. Visit GP. Collect prescription for antidepressants. Believe you have joined the ranks of real writers – because all real writers are depressed. (You read it somewhere...). Feel better.
8. Find some slightly more acceptable rules, which chime with what you have been doing anyway. Feel better still. Throw away the pills.
9. Open first document, and delete those headings saying ‘Chapter One’ whose fonts you feel are not quite... you know.
10. Experiment with different colours on the remaining fonts. Decide actually, black Times New Roman 12 point is about right for your novel.
11. Make handwritten list in moleskine notebook bought for the purpose. Characters. Their name, sex, colour hair, and what they wear on weekdays. This is sufficient information for the present. Look up if this is right. Read on Vanessa Gebbie’s blog that you don’t have to describe what characters look like at all. Especially if the novel is a literary one. Feel confused.
12. Decide not to write a literary novel, because you have got all this information (the list is 218 wds – you checked) on what your characters look like.
13. Looking at the list there is a lot about red hair and the men are wearing materials like worsted. Decide these are characters from a historical romance. Or maybe the red is blood. Horror. Or maybe sci fi, or a mix of all these plus literary.
14. Decide you need to decide on more things, like which tense to use. Read on Claire King’s blog that you must never use present tense. This is your preferred tense. You are not sure what the others are anyway. Get very tense.
15. Check word count in computer files for this novel. ‘Chapter One’ and al other headings etc adds up to 64. Add in the handwritten list in moleskine notebook. Total 282.
16. Ring selected friends and family to tell them what hard work this all is...

You are now on your way as a novelist. Enjoy.

(Marvellous photo is from Writetodone, where I found no fewer than 176 real tips for writers... - )


  1. Hahahaha, Vanessa! LMAO! This was a fun read.

  2. Hi Jude - glad it made you laugh!!

  3. Ha!! Just about right. I wonder really how I ever finished a book without a moleskin, must be why I've never written a proper novel.

  4. Brilliant!
    I *DO* think it's very important to consider all fonts and colours carefully. Next week I'll cover off the best use of colour and font choice in a query letter, as well as which tense to use. No need to be tense. In general, third person past tense is a great fallback for most query situations.

  5. Hahahahahahaha. Have you been sitting on my shoulder for the last year?

  6. I live for the present tense!

  7. The moleskin and the word count: the two most important tips/rules of all. Word count function on, moleskin open, I am ready to go.