The thirteenth rule

Novelist Deborah Moggach has set out twelve rules for writing novels. All very wise and sensible, no doubt, but perhaps a thirteenth rule may be added:

13. If you really need someone to set out rules to help you write your novel, then you really shouldn’t bother trying to write one in the first place.

After all, it’s not as if the world is crying out for yet more new novels. Even as it is, there are so many of the damn things that we don’t have the time or the patience to sort out the worthwhile from the crap!

6 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Shonti Mukherjee on May 29, 2013 at 12:17 pm

    What were the other twelve rules?


  2. Obooki’s Creative Writing Workshop runs for 10 weeks, and consists of a single message written on the blackboard for aspirants to contemplate, which reads: “The very fact that you’ve come on this course means you have failed as a writer”.

    No one ever graduates.


    • I came across a marvellous quote from Flannery O’Connor:

      “Everywhere I go I’m asked if I think the university stifles writers. My opinion is that they don’t stifle enough of them. There’s many a best-seller that could have been prevented by a good teacher.”


  3. Posted by Shonti Mukherjee on May 31, 2013 at 10:59 am

    The trouble with writing is that it just seems to be so….easy!!

    Great writers rarely give an impression that they are straining for the absolutely right expression and when we are still naïve we can convince ourselves that we are only a stitch or two away from such mighty aplomb.

    I think this is a time when it’s almost as hard to recognise greatness as it is to be so.

    If Lady Gaga is great, than so too are we seems to be a modern message, he sighed.


    • I think it is certainly one of the attractions of pop music that one may become very famous, and even get to the top, without possessing any discerible talent at all.

      With novel-writing, it’s a bit different. There are certainly some writers who make their craft seem very easy – Graham Greene, for instance. There are others who make a show of their craftsmanship. It is, indeed, among the intended effects of a Henry James novel, say, that the reader should see, and admire, the quality of the craftsmanship.

      But even with a Graham Greene novel, the reader must be imperceptive indeed not to realise the skill required to write it.

      Everyone seems to be writing a novel these days I can only imagine it’s because they do not have sufficently developed critical perceptions to realise how difficult it is to write even a mediocre novel, let alone a good one.


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