Author Quotes: Maugham.

“There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.” -W. Somerset Maugham

Whenever you publish a new post on WordPress, I’ve noticed they always present you with a little quote following information on how this is your five-hundred and whateverth post. They’re amusing, more often than not, and I tend to get a lot of the same ones, but, on certain days, they can strike me better than other days.

Take this one for example. When I read it, I immediately related to it, though most of my association with it was the desire to alter it just slightly. You see, my version would go like this:

“There are three rules for writing a novel. Fortunately, no one knows what they are.”

While I am certainly in support of proper grammar and wordsmithing and what have you, I find myself constantly bored or simply rolling my eyes at anyone suggesting there are certain “rules” to writing. True, there are basic fundamentals to making a story effective, but some of the best stories are also fantastic at taking those fundamentals and smashing them against the wall. Many authors even find great success in turning their backs to the ultimate staple of a “beginning, conflict, resolution” structure for their tales, and more power to them. One author might believe firmly in this rule, another in that, and no where betwixt the two shall they meet. Others take all rules and throw them to the wind.

And I think that’s incredible. I hope no one does figure out what Maugham’s “three rules” may be. Just think of how much more fun and adventure and creativity we can cultivate having no idea what we’re doing and just working it out as we go along. Writing should not be bogged down by rules and restrictions. Writing should be about telling a great story in a wonderful way, no matter how you get there or what you do once you’ve arrived.

So, tell me. Are there any writing rules that you live by? Any writing rules that you wish were broken so much that they ceased to exist? I know I, personally, struggle with the rule that “everything should have a purpose” in my writing, but I find it a delight when I notice writers using it in their works.

Let me know what you think!


  1. Never use ; – just useless and erroneously used. Just start a new sentence. Creative metaphors and similes add so much flavor and keeps me reading even though I may not be very thrilled with the novel. I often copy them on blank end pages then to 3 x 5 cards.

    • See, already, there’s a rule I just have to break right away, Carl; I love semi-colons! To me, they just intimately tie together two sentences that would otherwise not be as strong standing alone.

  2. Have you noticed all the rules we learned in school, like using semi-colons, are suddenly taboo in fiction writing. Who made THAT rule?

    The rule I HATE is “Don’t use adverbs”. I love adverbs. They set moods, in my opinion. We learned to use adverbs in school, and now we’re not supposed to use them. You know that rule will change back again on someone’s whim.

    A rule I do try to abide by is to not use “that” too much. I agree that sentences flow better without it most of the time. My first couple of books are full of them. LOL. And I do get upset when people toss grammar rules out the window completely or use words wrong. I don’t know how many times I’ve cringed at the wrong uses of “lie” and “lay”.

    I cheat on comma rules sometimes. There are times when i KNOW a comma isn’t supposed to be there, but it sounds better with a slight pause, and a comma takes care of that. I try not to do this too often, though.

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