25 rules for writing a novel, by Matt Haig

The How To Stop Time author shares his pointers on getting started on your masterpiece.

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.