Thursday, 2 February 2012


(A previous post on some things to bear in mind during our Sisyphean endeavour. Feel free to add your own.)

1. Rejection is the norm, the default. Each time you achieve some success, regard it as a mistake and get back to work.

2. Your biggest asset is a dissatisfaction with everything you write. It’s never good enough; you can always improve it.

3. Don’t dabble; it’s not a hobby (unless it is, in which case stop reading this). Regular (preferably long) hours is the only way.

4. You are always writing. There is no time off for good behaviour. Every tiny event, each smell and sound, is material. Bank it.

5. Read. Everything. Past and present. You simply can’t be any good at this otherwise.

6. Take risks.

7. Don’t show work to friends and family. Unless they’re in the business, their opinion has nothing to offer you. Let them buy your book like everyone else. Perhaps with a discount.

8. Every time you announce you’re writing a book, the response will be, What’s it about? Reply, It’s about 90,000 words and quickly shuffle away. Even if you can do your book justice in thirty seconds at a party to someone who really doesn’t want to know, DON'T. The only time you tell your story, during composition, is as you write it.

9. Just get the words down. Worry about how good they are and the order they’re in later. All writing, as the cliché goes, is rewriting.

10. If you’re in this for money or fame, stop now.


SueG said...

gotta say, these are some of the best rules I've ever seen. Wise words, Tom. Wise words.

Nicola Morgan said...

Hi Tom - great advice and I agree with it all except No 8. Yes, if you just mean not to tell it to "someone who doesn't want to know," I perhaps agree, but if we can't interest people in a few seconds, how can we expect a sales rep or marketing person or bookseller to do so later? I think we owe it to ourselves and our book to be able to say what it's about, succinctly and compellingly - otherwise it's rather likely no one will read it... I DO agree that when it's very early days in the first draft it's fair enough to bat the question away with something Delphic, but after that i'm afraid we have to bite the bullet, even if it takes a big intake of breath and we really wish the person hadn't asked. One answer is to lie, by the way! Say, sex, secrets and a terrifying encounter with the devil. That should do it!

TOM J VOWLER said...

Thanks, Sue. Lovely to see you here.

Hi Nicola. Hope all good with you, and that the move went well. I agree, we should be able to pique interest, giving a brief and compelling blurb of our book. What I'd warn against, during composition, is being sucked in to tell the entire story, giving detailed plot points, should anyone want to listen that long. I find this undermines some of the enthusiasm for telling it as you write it. There's also the (small) danger of someone borrowing your wonderful ideas and getting there first. But yes, hard as it can be, as writers we should be able to talk about our 'babies' succinctly and with confidence.

Blake Kimzey said...

I like all of these rules, especially no. 8. Talking about your writing in conversation is almost as bad as not writing at all (unless, of course, you are at your book launch party or being interviewed, in which case, you've already followed the list).


L'Aussie said...

Love the list. Love the cheeky answer to No 8.

Paul Lamb said...

I especially line #9.

Anna-Marie said...

For no. 5 - does reading blogs count? I do a lot of that. Unfortunately it takes me almost as long to read a novel as it does to write one. I need to develop the ability to exist without sleep in order to fit life in.

TOM J VOWLER said...

Hi Blake. Good to hear from ya.

Thanks for stopping by, L'Aussie and Paul.

Fraid not, AM!

TOM J VOWLER said...

And #5 shouldn't be taken literally, because as Stewart Lee pointed out ( in his cheek, the person who read everything published in their lifetime today, would be more stupid than a person who read nothing.

TOM J VOWLER said...

Okay, so that link doesn't work anymore, but am sure youtube has his brilliant routine on books somewhere if you want a laugh.

chillcat said...

I agree with your list. Quiet, stealth, long hours, no rewards. That's all there is.

Mike said...

Great advice man. Thanks for the info.