Writing tips

How to write a novel: 25 rules

How to write a novel: 25 rules

by Matt Haig

1. Never be in awe of your own style.


2. Writer's block = writer's indecision.


3. Write anything at first. Francois Sagan said 'I have to write to begin to think.' So do you.


4. Right now, forget about money. It eats imagination.


5. The first page of your first novel is the most important thing you will ever write.


6. Know that you won't win the Booker Prize. Fact: no-one has ever won the Booker Prize apart from Hilary Mantel, and you are not Hilary Mantel.


7. A first draft is the beginning of the end. But the end lasts for ever.


8. It isn't the words you choose to use. It's the words you choose not to use.


9. Adverbs dilute.


10. Raise your effort. Lower your expectations.


11. Ignore discouragement. You'll never know real negativity until you tell people you are writing a novel. The last thing a human who spends their day selling home insurance in an office that smells of egg sandwiches and despair wants to hear is that their old school-friend is going to be an international bestselling author. So ignore them. All of them. Well, except that latter-day Malcolm Bradbury, Katy Perry: 'Make 'em go, oh, oh, oh/ As you shoot across the sky.'


12. The 'track changes' function is the greatest miracle since the wheel.


13. Write as though your mother will never read it.


14. Forget about what you want the book to achieve. Think about what you want the words to achieve.


15. Be ship-shape. An ocean liner might be big, but all the screws need to be tight. Or you end up drowning. So, y'know, observe each sentence as if it was the only one.


16. It's OK to write about people you know if you change the names.


17. If you write about a dog, and the dog dies, you are in trouble.


18. Jeanette Winterson once told me to change the phrase 'epiphanic moment' to 'moment of epiphany'. That is the single greatest piece of advice anyone has ever given me.


19. Write the book you most want to read. That will be the best book you can write.


20. If you write in the first person people will think that the views of that person are your own views. Don't let that stop you writing Hitler's fictional autobiography. I just thought you should know.


21. Read Graham Greene. He infects you with greatness.


22. The hardest bit of writing always comes at the 30,000 word mark. Keep going. After 50,000 the hill slopes in your favour.


23. Read it aloud. You'll notice more mistakes that way.


24. Love is the most important ingredient. Love of words. Of your characters and their flaws. Of truth. You are playing God, but it has to be a loving God.


25. Enjoy it. There is nothing as exciting in this world as roaming the beautiful wilds of the human imagination. There really isn't.



Tips for including diverse characters  Diverse Voices

Top tips for including diversity in your writing

Read our top tips for authors, illustrators and publishers

'What's the Story': disability and children's books

Discover our resource around children's books, disability, and positive attitudes



helped me a lot in writting my novelll

17 February 2017

writing is inquesting the beauty in us

13 February 2017

Your rules and tips are really helping me to come up with an interesting story.

2 February 2017

A very helpful article, thanks. I tend to write from the seat of my pants, but have learned --the hard way-- that following a loose outline and plot structure can save my editing budget down the line.

12 January 2017

Enjoyed these. Thanks. Best advice I came across lately (that I hadn't seen somewhere else) is 'don't use formal names in dialogue.'

i.e. "Hey, Tom. What you doin?"

Nobody says that in real life.

10 December 2016

You're basically implying that if you want to write a book you'll never be as good as anybody before you so what's the point.

5 December 2016

Really good tips

16 November 2016

These are some great tips, my teacher said I should write books so...

Here goes nothing.

7 November 2016

I know I like writing but it is better than watching television

7 November 2016

This article is useful but i want an article on how to prepare for the starting point of how to write a novel. I mean, like should i prepare a summary first or the chapter first???

6 November 2016

I want to know how to prepare to start writing a novel! I mean like, drafting it first or thinking of the chapter first?

6 November 2016

thanks for tips

21 October 2016

It's wow

28 September 2016

Those were really cool advices , I hope that will be useful for new Writers

26 September 2016

thanks for the tips, sir.its really useful to me

k.thirumal reddy
24 September 2016

Thank you that helped me a LOT, I will try to keep that in mind, thank you, very useful!!!

22 September 2016

I cannot believe so many people commented on this. This is so arrogant.

20 September 2016

Well, you are right but tell us the tips or guidelines in writing a Good and advanced book or novel.

Ayoola N M
6 September 2016

This is very helpful

2 September 2016

Is it possible to reduce the cost of writing a book by typing it out "correctly" before sending to a publisher. By "correctly" I mean correct punctuation, spelling, lay-out, words per page etc on,for example WORD or similar template. This would then eliminate re-typing etc?

27 August 2016

I'm confused about the Hilary Mantel thing. The Booker Prize is awarded every year

6 August 2016

Some of these are excellent points... but some of it is incomprehensible, and makes no sense. You're just trying to sound intelligent and/or SOO deep about writing here, man.

1 August 2016


John R
30 July 2016

Thanks for this Matt!

Chris S
27 July 2016

As an author, I believe a book should be a pleasure for any reader so don't try to be clever and make your reader feel stupid... I have just had a guy who has read my novel The Beginning compliment me by saying " I really enjoyed it and for once I only had to think about a couple of words... most books I up end feeling stupid because I have to ask what some of the words mean!"

26 July 2016

Inspiring good advice - and you made me laugh. Thanks - on a third edit...

23 July 2016

This guide lines will help me alot in improving my urban fiction novel titled THE STREET.

15 July 2016

what if people get bored on your novel?

12 July 2016

I like your advice to people how to write perfectly in words.
I am a writer too and this tips helps me the way to succeed.
Thank you.

8 July 2016

Thanks for the tips!
I am writing my first novel/story. J

3 July 2016

Thanks, this really helps with my writing! I'm 13 and have so many stories to write and this will improve, so thanks again!

21 June 2016

I am a little confused about number 17? Why would this get an author into trouble? Please explain.

19 June 2016

Please tell me how to write a novel in my own words, which tenses are important to use?


BookTrust reply: Hello Shoaib, we can't really give advice on this, as each writer has to find the words and tenses that make sense to them and feel right for their story. There's no right way or wrong way, so we hope you have fun figuring out what you want to say and how. Good luck with it all!

15 June 2016

A very interesting guideline,,,working on mine and will air it soon and welcome all of you to critique.Thank you

14 June 2016

The tenth point is extremely important for new writers. You should put all your effort into your writing but you shouldn't expect much. That way you won't be disappointed.

13 June 2016

24 and 25 are the most useful tips for young writers.

10 June 2016

i love the "Write as your mother would never read it" part haha

10 June 2016

This gave me more Inspiration, it really helped me. Thank you!

maclaugher Penelophy
8 June 2016

it's really helpful

25 May 2016

I found it very interesting ~ Thank you ^^

Baozi Girl
22 April 2016

So helpful beginning a school zombie book called scarred

2 March 2016


1 March 2016

Really good advice and encouragement; i've been given incentive to enter the fray.

27 February 2016

Good Tips! :)

15 February 2016

Hi, my name is Yasmine and I have a good story. I would like to get as much information as possible because I don't have any kind of money and I know there are options so let me know.

BookTrust reply: Hello Yasmine, do take a look around our website for more writing tips. If you would like further help on the publishing process, etc, we'd suggest checking out other resources, such as Writer's Digest. Good luck.

18 January 2016

Great inspiration. I am energized to scale higher.

4 December 2015

Actual decent tips.

11 November 2015

They are very helpful and very good advice.

Bella Timmes
4 November 2015

l will be a writer

Nwafor UH
28 October 2015

l will follow your teaching seriously

Nwafor UH
28 October 2015

You have motivated me to be a novel writer keep it up.

Nwafor UH
28 October 2015

First time writer, nearly eighty, will post the rules above my computer, wish me luck "time" and endurance.

Johnny Ringwood
10 October 2015


2 October 2015

Rules?!! I thought that the beauty about writing is that there are no rules!!

29 September 2015

Thanks for the tips. Ill use these as my bible.

7 September 2015

thanks a lot for giving us such advice

Rahul kumar
7 September 2015

thank u very much for giving great tips i have inspired too much from today i m going to write my own novel.

Rahul kumar
7 September 2015

Thank you for giving such ideas of writing a novel, it really helps me a lot.

Indra S
4 September 2015

thank you.number 6 is very important to every new writer.

24 August 2015

Excellent tips

Thiruman Archunan
22 August 2015

This is going to help me so much! I can feel it! I'm sixteen and going into my Junior year, and I love to write short stories in my free time, so I thought to step it up a notch and finish a novel by the end of my Senior year! Wish me luck, Matt Haug!

Faythe M
13 August 2015

good tips they came in handy, thanks.

30 July 2015


Great advice direct and altruistic.

27 July 2015


I am going to start writing my noval tomorrow and Thanks for giving me tips today

Jai Molchandani
22 June 2015


"Write as though your mother will never read it"! That's so true. A wrote a semi-autobiographical self-help book and it resonated with readers because I was willing to share so much of myself, including the awkward stuff. Also, spend a lot of time developing a great cover, I think much of my sales success has been because I have a fantastic cover, designed by Audria at designbyindigo.com. A great cover sells!

Timothy McIntyre
9 June 2015


I'm reaching 30000 words today. It's getting hard. This has given me hope that it will eventually get easier again.

31 May 2015


I liked them all. Good advice.

27 April 2015

Kwl nhe...can anyone help here please.[
I don't know what am writing but am writing a book.to this book you will find poems,essays,short text and this I want to change it to be a book of essays....different kinds of essays.

BA yanda
27 April 2015


I want to write my life story

Nancy livingstone
21 April 2015

I'm working on a story at the minute I'm only about 30,000 words in to what should be 300'000 to 500'000 word story by the time i'm happy with it. Any extra advice you can give would be helpful

5 April 2015


no 17 I know! I will never forgive Patrick ness for The Ask And The Answer and neither will my daughter! great tips though. Thanks

22 March 2015


I'll be honest, when I first started writing, I tried to force my fictional world into a specific mould.

Then, like a god I gave my characters free will, I looked on in horror as they destroyed my world and built it a new, the way they wanted, completely beyond my control.

I have to thank them, as now the characters write the whole world along with its ever forming history.

Don't be afraid to take your hand off the rains, stop being a control freak and let your characters do the work through you.

K D Logan
8 February 2015


Great advice. My book will probably never get published but this list will get a mention

Charlie hinkley
25 January 2015

Thank you so much!
Tip 6 and 18 are the best but you're whole thing is the best from this site i've seen.
I've been writing a fantasy/mystery story called Assiduous and whenever i start to write i have a look at your tips again. Thank you!
Ps. I love Shadow Forest. Thank you for writing it!

3 January 2015

Thanks for these tips, though am writting for kids. I love this

Luqman Alawode
21 November 2014

Me just started only i knw searching here for ideas wont take me anywhere and i dont want to be anywhere. i just want to share whats on my mind. but first we must learn the rules of the game..
So that we can play it better..

vishnu k karthikeyan...
18 November 2014

This is a struggle, but a damn fun one. I'm going slow very slow 20th draft or so 9I lost count) 25 chapters and doing another revision this week, two years so far. I found an online critique site thats helping speed things up this year considerably. Critics are the kindest people, they take valuable time out of their day to help you don't forget that. Thank them and thank them again. I'd post the link but don't want this to become an advert. :P Nice blog.

17 November 2014


Having just battled to the end of my first novel at 105k words, I've learned these the hard way. Except no 21 - reading and loving Graham Greene was easy

21 October 2014

I love #13

Alli P
14 October 2014

I'm not Hilary Mantel...
well, I guess I better change my name to Hilary Mantel then.
your move.

ok, but seriously, nice guide. I'm already at my 111,000 word count but not at my wit's end.

13 October 2014

thanks a lot...it will be my guide now,,,hehehe cuz i always have story in my mind...that i become more exciting...but i think number 17 always happen to me...but now...i realized...WRITE EVERYTHING FIRST...

23 September 2014

The best advice/rules i have read in a long long time, i reached about 30,000 words in my book writing voyage last year then i ground to a halt or more appropriately hit an immovable rock! twas kinda discouraging but after reading your advice all pick my self up, reverse and continue my writing journey today.

22 September 2014

Goilly thanks!!!!!!!!This really helped.

Wenona Bea Javier
24 August 2014


22 August 2014

I need writing rules!

8 August 2014

today i'm much confused deciding how to start my novel. i have two ways-
1) i can predict the whole story normally
2) i write it as my diary notes and predict the whole story in a way just as two friends are chatting.
please solve my problem. i had this problem because i liked the way #2 but i also agree with rule #5.

Kautilya Bhardwaj
14 July 2014

Wow! Brilliant. Thanks a lot ^_^

Petal Hoang
29 June 2014

Thanks A tonnnnn.................

CA Ankush
27 June 2014

haha! this one's so helpful. thank you!

I am Ei
27 June 2014

I'm starting today and this has saved me - and made me laugh!

25 June 2014

thanks alot and i really found worth in it!!!

14 June 2014

Number 10 is much meaningful for a MAN in a Race or Battle.

Masereka David
13 June 2014

Very helpful. Thanks

24 May 2014

Oh 25, I m willing to live & die there
Thank you

23 May 2014

that ws really helpful!! thanx a lot :)

16 May 2014

Great advice- love # 17

John Heselton
1 May 2014

i am energized to resume the chapter i left midway. Thanks a ton!

21 April 2014

Oh. My. GOD. Number #22 is actually TRUE! I never would've thought that, but it's just happened to me and it's really true! Of course, so are lots of the other ones, but this one has just blown my mind at this particular point in time.

Saving this list somewhere I can easily read it whenever I need to. Thanks muchly, sir!

Wendy Christopher
18 April 2014

Thanks now I can start a book

13 April 2014

Thanks for the tips.

Empress vy
7 April 2014

Add a comment