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

W. Somerset Maugham


To write competently is to do a few magic tricks for friends and family; to write well is to run away to join the circus.

Toby Litt

5 Writing Tips from Jeff VanderMeer

Jeff VanderMeer, Author of the acclaimed Southern Reach trilogy (perhaps you’ve seen a trailer for the film adaptation?) and Borne, shares his top five tips, with the caveat that “for most novels revision is the key to success.”

Have you hammered out that first draft and now have no idea what to do? His tips below might just be what you need.

1. Changes to structure can relieve pressure and allow your novel to breathe.

“As I weighed how much information to provide to the reader and where, I realized I should experiment with a three-part structure because I was in danger of off-loading too much context too quickly on the reader.”

2. Finding space for proper introduction of characters does not mean sacrificing tension.

“Once I knew the novel would have three parts, roughly corresponding to stages in Borne’s development, it meant that scenes involving other characters could now be spread out across all three sections and I could introduce characters like the Magician, an antagonist, in a more leisurely way. Ironically, this “leisure” would create more tension in the novel because I no longer had to do more than allude to the Magician until the point at which her entrance would be most dramatic.”

3. The emotional depth of your story can be affected by how you provide exposition.

“A change in structure meant a change in the length of the novel to some degree, but more importantly it meant I had more space for context related to setting and landscape and history to be situated at regular intervals along the way—only in the places it was needed and thus made more active than simply inert exposition. This changed the texture of the novel by making individual moments of description or explanation shorter.”

4. A multi-level narrative voice requires detailed attention at the paragraph level.

“In a way, the simpler the language became, the more complex the effects. This is because some of the more complex word choices drew too much attention to themselves in the midst of highly emotional scenes—scenes in which I wanted the reader fully engaged in the moment of the scene.”

5. A character’s past can be parceled out in aid of balancing the personal and epic.

“At one time, I had a long separate early chapter that detailed [the protagonist’s] past, thinking this was necessary for characterization. But I later realized, in the new context for the novel’s structure, that this chapter would be more effective broken up and spread throughout the novel, with more of it dramatized than summarized.”

Source: Publisher’s Weekly

If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.

Toni Morrison

Top 20 Tips from Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’

Stephen King’s memoir-cum-ode to the difficulty of writing, On Writing, placed him atop the vaulted pedestal as the foremost “giver of writing advice.” He deserves every moment up there.

1. First write for yourself, and then worry about the audience. “When you write a story, you’re telling yourself the story. When you rewrite, your main job is taking out all the things that are not the story.”

2. Don’t use passive voice. “Timid writers like passive verbs for the same reason that timid lovers like passive partners. The passive voice is safe.”

3. Avoid adverbs. “The adverb is not your friend.”

4. Avoid adverbs, especially after “he said” and “she said.”

5. But don’t obsess over perfect grammar. “The object of fiction isn’t grammatical correctness but to make the reader welcome and then tell a story.”

6. The magic is in you. “I’m convinced that fear is at the root of most bad writing.”

7. Read, read, read. ”If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write.”

8. Don’t worry about making other people happy. “If you intend to write as truthfully as you can, your days as a member of polite society are numbered, anyway.”

9. Turn off the TV. “TV—while working out or anywhere else—really is about the last thing an aspiring writer needs.”

10. You have three months. “The first draft of a book—even a long one—should take no more than three months, the length of a season.”

11. There are two secrets to success. “I stayed physical healthy, and I stayed married.”

12. Write one word at a time. “Whether it’s a vignette of a single page or an epic trilogy like ‘The Lord of the Rings,’ the work is always accomplished one word at a time.”

13. Eliminate distraction. “There’s should be no telephone in your writing room, certainly no TV or videogames for you to fool around with.”

14. Stick to your own style. “One cannot imitate a writer’s approach to a particular genre, no matter how simple what that writer is doing may seem.”

15. Dig. “Stories are relics, part of an undiscovered pre-existing world. The writer’s job is to use the tools in his or her toolbox to get as much of each one out of the ground intact as possible.”

16. Take a break. “You’ll find reading your book over after a six-week layoff to be a strange, often exhilarating experience.”

17. Leave out the boring parts and kill your darlings. “(kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.)”

18. The research shouldn’t overshadow the story. “Remember that word back. That’s where the research belongs: as far in the background and the back story as you can get it.”

19. You become a writer simply by reading and writing. “You learn best by reading a lot and writing a lot, and the most valuable lessons of all are the ones you teach yourself.”

20. Writing is about getting happy. “Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid or making friends. Writing is magic, as much as the water of life as any other creative art. The water is free. So drink.”

Source: Open Culture, 2014

Flash Fiction, Mastery (or Tyranny?) of Form

Flash fiction is a form with such tightly controlled standards that – for me – attempting it is like joining the marines. And I just don’t have what it takes. My usual authorial endeavours are a bit too akin to guerrilla warfare for me to stray too often onto the open battlefield that is the flash fiction market.

Yes, all stories need a beginning, middle, and end. You need to introduce a character, set up their arc, and then watch them complete it. But somewhere along the way, the structure of flash fiction has narrowed to include that little twist at the end: a bow that ties it all together. But when you are required to telegraph your intent so clearly, how do you hide the seams that show where you stitched this all together?

So, I turn to any other writers out there to ask:

Where do you draw the line between what work the author needs to do and what work the reader needs to do?

What are your thoughts on flash fiction, as either a reader or writer?

Chime in with your thoughts below!


As a writer you try to listen to what others aren’t saying… and write about the silence.

N.R. Hart

Create a website or blog at

Up ↑