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.



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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

thank u so much...nw its time to write a better chapter. get set go...

apoorva u
24 March 2014

Very useful and helpful; Imagination is very important.

Anita Kalukango
22 March 2014

Bookmarked and has been referred to everyday for the past week while writing!

Russell S
19 March 2014

cool! these will help me with my writing

14 March 2014

thank you for the advice, I will put all listed in mind. I also hope all others writing their first book has great success. :)

14 March 2014

This really helped a lot. Thanks again


13 March 2014

Bookmarked! Thank you for this!

2 March 2014

very useful tips,

28 February 2014

you helped me so much

thank you

19 February 2014

My favourite is number 24. If you have a love of your character then that will make them human even if they have flaws.

I think you're missing something around grit and persistence though. It takes a lot of effort to sit down and continue to write even when you think your muse has deserted you, or if you're infatuated with a new idea.

13 February 2014

This is really helpful. I really like 24 and 25.

13 February 2014

I was just leaving for my second session at a writer's forum when I read your tips. Not sure if I can write but have been driven to try. Thank you all your tips are really helpful for me.

April Llewellyn
9 February 2014

you said if you have a dog in the book and the dog dies your in trouble may you please explain then why of mice and men is still being used an educational tool when that has a dieng dog that is killed in it

Alexander James Roberts
5 February 2014

It is really, really very helpful. Thanks for the post.

Mohnish Singh
3 February 2014

Thanks for the tips amazing

1 February 2014

Thank you very much. I liked especially number 17

Peter A
1 February 2014

thank you for these great tips.

priyabrata Mahakur
1 February 2014

You have no idea how much this has helped my writing. I never comment on these things, but I felt this was necessary. Thank you.

13 January 2014

Really helpfull tips ! Thanks alot.
P.s : I loved number 20 haha

9 January 2014

Thanks so much. You surged my imagination and energy!

Susan Summer
6 January 2014

These are great tips! Loved No.19 especially.

I encourage everyone to write out the ones you find most important (as I did)- you never know when you might need them!

1 January 2014

Thanks a lot Matt:)

17 December 2013

Greatest advice I ever read - no 13! This was one of my major problems ,believe it? "What will mamma say?!"
And the idea of playing God - oh my! Genius!
Thank you for this list! Is perfect.

8 December 2013

I am writing number 24. Hope all of you will like it. But fear always lurks around me.

Debasish Satpathy
13 November 2013

thanks but no thanks. too ccomplicated. i'd rather visit someplace else

8 November 2013

Thanks for the tips! I am about to start writing my first novel. Just getting all my ideas together now before I begin to write.

Siobhan C
7 November 2013

I love number 13! However, all of the tips are brilliant. Thank you.

Nadine Hirst
30 October 2013

Nice ones here, I won't make mistakes again, though is my first novel and am only 17,I wander how am gonna do it but I can, I know that.

19 September 2013

Thanks for this Matt; You'll be the first to know when it's published!

Lawrence Cohen
11 September 2013

17. If you write about a dog, and the dog dies, you are in trouble... hmmn. Starting a book in august about a dog (a basenji)... trying to decide if it should die (or one of his folks). Now, I'ld keep this in mind. You just saved a life. The dog lives!

Miss August
29 July 2013

wise tips and as I start my journey I will use them wisely, thank you

23 July 2013

LOL! I like tip 13 & 17!
I will use these tips!

4 July 2013

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

- Brilliant, thank you!

16 June 2013

Listening makes an attentive man, reading makes a cognitive man but writing makes an atticulate man." to be or not to be", this is an indispensible guide to great writers. thanks Joan.

4 June 2013

Just starting my 7th suspense novel and I needed those reminded now just as much as when I wrote my first book, many years ago. Maybe more. Thank you.


Joan Hall Hovey
24 May 2013

Just,Thank you.

Ken DeRoiste
21 May 2013

I see my dreams coming true.tnks for the lecture,oneday u will here my name on the climax of this world never fight me..

chris c Nwakanma
17 May 2013

I needed that to get me going again!

24 March 2013

Brilliant list to work with.

Maureen W
13 March 2013

thank you. You have given me a road map to an author's shang ri la.

Johan Olivier
1 March 2013

I found that after 30,000 wasn't bad. It was after about 70,000. Ending is a bitch.

21 February 2013

I've just hit 30,000 words so I know 22 is true!

20 February 2013

Great advice. One of the rare set of rules, all 25 of them, that I agree with

Namita W
18 February 2013

novelists are really minor poets!

18 February 2013

Just great points, really great, and humour helps, a lot, I think.



Alan Summers
9 February 2013

These rules are wise and witty.

7 February 2013

I liked them all. Good advice. Particularly liked 9.11. 13 and 19

Sandra Walls
6 February 2013

Love this list. Excellent advice. My favourite one is number 25.

Anne Stormont
6 February 2013

Good stuff. Thank you.

6 February 2013

Hat's off to anyone with the audacity and courage to see it through. I'll stick to shopping and holiday packing lists.

Peter Kenny
6 February 2013

Brilliant and so funny. Thank you.

Marika Cobbold
6 February 2013

If you're going to take just one from the 25 above then it's got to be number 8.

Sam K
6 February 2013

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