Notes from An Alien

~ Explorations In Writing { and reading and publishing } ~

Tag Archives: Writing Rules

How Long “Should” #Novels Be?

Back in 2014, I wrote the article, Breaking The “Rules” of Writing.

As usual on this blog, taking that link will lead to other links, which lead to

It’s one of my rules that my articles here should (when appropriate) lead to related articles.

Rules aren’t bad; but, “Rules” can be very bad

“Rules” are what other people say that you should probably not believe.

Like a “novel” “should” be 50,000 words or more.

My novel, Notes from An Alien (which you can buy or get for free…),  is somewhere around 43,000 words.

I did have a spell of time when I wondered if folks would reject my novel because it wasn’t “long enough”—horrible time of doubting my personal rule that I should determine how long my books are

Ever heard of Peirene Press?

I just learned about them and that “They only publish books of less than 200 pages that can be read in the same time it takes to watch a DVD.”.

Another “rule” broken with the punctuation at the end of that last sentence :-)

I first heard about Peirene Press at the end of an article by Cynan JonesThe Case for Very Short Novels.

Here are a few choice excerpts:

“A short novel makes a straightforward demand: give me this time. There’s no room for phone calls, feeding the cat, helping kids with homework.”

“There’s no room for digression. No room for passenger writing. Every word is doing a job. So pay attention. A short novel is an event, not a trip.”

“Great short novels stay in the mind as objects, whereas, often, novels are ornate boxes with objects inside.”

Cynan does list a number of famous short novels:

The Old Man and the Sea, They Shoot Horses Don’t They?, The Fox, A Meal in Winter, Animal Farm, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Bonjour Tristesse, Utz, Metamorphosis, The Fall, A Month in the Country, So The Wind Won’t Blow It All Away…”

He also talks about rules:

“Rules are vital in focussing creativity into effectiveness, and generally the story itself sets them. A strong story will know whether it wants to be a long book, microfiction, a short story, a poem—even if it takes the writer some time to recognise it—and it won’t let you make it into anything else.”

And, he brings up authors’ anxiety about their short novels and how “demeaning” the term “novella” might be; yet, he returns to a very strong statement:

“When it comes to the act of writing itself, you just have to forget labels exist and listen to the demands of the story. A good writer knows instinctively what they are doing, but are then required to explain it. That, I think, accounts for many of the laboured pigeon-holing terms, the vague attempts at category and so on.”

And, even though (since you’ve read this far) you “should” go read the whole article, Cynan ends by saying:

“Novel, novella, short novel? Ultimately it simply shouldn’t matter. The only thing to be taken into account should be the impact a piece of writing has.”

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Do All Writers Write “What They Know”?

There are so many “rules” for writers—so many dos and don’ts—so many restrictions on creativity… 

Certainly, each writer discovers their own set of Writing Principles and, when decent authors share their principles, other writers can benefit.

So, what about that ancient piece of advice, Write What You Know?

Does a crime novelist have to go out and kill people to abide by the advice?

Should a romance writer dive into multiple flings?

A sci-fi writer visit other planets?

It all seems to hinge on the word “Know”

Perhaps, for the moment, I could amend the ancient advice to say, Write What You Somehow Know Enough About To Make up A Plausible Story.

I was prompted to write this post because of an article in The New York Times Sunday Book Review—‘Write What You Know’ — Helpful Advice or Idle Cliché?

The article focuses on responses from Zoë Heller and Mohsin Hamid; yet, even though Zoë has much good to say, I’ll focus on Mohsin’s comments:

“It may be that the DNA of fiction is, like our own DNA, a double helix, a two-stranded beast. One strand is born of what writers have experienced. The other is born of what writers wish to experience, of the impulse to write in order to know.”

“…I also write about things I haven’t experienced. I’ve written from the point of view of a woman, of a global surveillance system, of a writer who is being beheaded. I write these things because I want to transcend my experiences. I want to go beyond myself.”

“A human self is made up of stories. These stories are rooted partly in experience, and partly in fantasy. The power of fiction lies in its capacity to gaze upon this odd circumstance of our existence, to allow us to play with the conundrum that we are making ourselves up as we go along.”

I encourage all devoted writers to go read the whole NYT article

I also encourage you to watch the video below, since Mr. Hamid calls his presentation, “I don’t believe in reality”.

He gives three tantalizing reads from his novels.

He discusses how writers are always on a search for how to express

Also, how reader reactions can inform the author about the meaning of what they wrote.

And, some penetrating insights on Muslims and Islam.

He discusses the transformation of books into movies, politicized religion, monetizing anxieties, plus delves into the relationship of storytelling, psychology, and the Self

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Should Writers Blog? ~ If They Do, What Are The “Rules” . . .

There are many reasons for writers to blog

One was explored in my previous post, Blogging ~ Can It Really Fulfill The Writer’s Dictum: “Write Every Day!”?

As I pointed out in that post, the maverick in me had to punctuate that tile the way I did

As far as “rules” for writers, you’ll see why I had to put that word in quotes if you read these two posts:

Rules for Writers Are Slippery and Shifty . . .

More On The “Rules” of Writing . . .

I’m going to leave the many other reasons for writers to blog to readers who are brave enough to share what they know in the Comments—I love challenging folks to comment—once they learn it doesn’t hurt, they actually like it :-)

Thanks to Kristi Hines from and to her guest poster, Steve Aedy, I can share some “rules” for writers-in-general from some relatively well-known other writers.

The article Writing Tips of Famous Authors you can use now for Blogging has various “rules” for writers; then, Steve translates them into rules for bloggers.

I’m only going to put the “rules” from other writers here because so many writers don’t seem to have the time to blog

If you are or want to be a blogging writer, just take that article’s link to read the bloggy stuff :-)

Some “Rules”:

“Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip. Think of what you skip reading…thick paragraphs of prose you can see have too many words in them.” – Elmore Leonard

“Don’t wish ill on your colleagues.” – Richard Ford

“Try to be accurate about stuff.” – Anne Enright

“Never complain of being misunderstood. You can choose to be understood, or you can choose not to.” – Neil Gaiman

“Hold the reader’s attention. This is likely to work better if you can hold your own.” – Margaret Atwood

“You most likely need a thesaurus, a rudimentary grammar book, and a grip on reality. This latter means: there’s no free lunch. Writing is work. It’s also gambling. You don’t get a pension plan. Other people can help you a bit, but essentially you’re on your own. Nobody is making you do this; you choose it, so don’t whine.” – Margaret Atwood

“Remember you love writing. It wouldn’t be worth it if you didn’t. If the love fades, do what you need to and get it back.” – PD James

“Do it every day. Make a habit of putting your observations into words and gradually this will become instinct.” – Geoff Dyer

“Put one word after another. Find the right word, put it down.” – Neil Gaiman

“Don’t just plan to write – write. It is only by writing, not dreaming about it, that we develop our own style.” – PD James

“Don’t write in public places.” – Geoff Dyer

“Find your best time of the day for writing and write. Don’t let anything else interfere. Afterwards, it won’t matter to you that the kitchen is a mess.” – Ester Freud

“Work on a computer that is disconnected from the internet.” – Zadie Smith

“Protect the time and space in which you write. Keep everybody away from it, even the people who are most important to you.” – Zadie Smith


Even though I’m a writer and I blog 5 days a week, I don’t “write” every day—unless you count the larger Writing Process in my head as “writing”—which I do count—and, there are a few more of those “rules” that I can’t abide :-)

Sure hope some of you are brave enough to comment………
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The “Right” Way To Write ~ Writing Advice for The Brave . . .

These days, writing advice is cheap—even free on the Web—cheap, also, in the sense “of little worth because achieved in a discreditable way requiring little effort”.

If you want “writing advice” from this blog, use the Top Tags widget; or, use this link >>> Writing Advice

If you go there, you’ll see this post (because I’m adding “writing advice” to its Tags) and, next, the post, Writing Advice, Even from Well-Known Authors, Can Be “Dangerous” . . .

That last post I linked to has other links to writing advice from seven extremely talented and famous authors, yet it also has this quote:

“For every ‘rule’ in the books, some book of creative writing has successfully ‘broken’ it :-)

So, what IS the RIGHT way to write?

Well, let me relate a bit of a conversation I had last night with my best friend.

We’d been to a benefit trivia contest on Book Island in the virtual world Second Life and she recalled the extremely common trait people share of wanting to be “Right”.

Naturally, if a person is “wrong” often enough, they will “fail”

But then, there is that phenomenon where a person does the “wrong” thing in a situation yet comes out smelling like the sweetest flower in the garden.

Also, we live in a rather fractured and ailing society where deciding “right” and “wrong” can often be, to say the least, agonizing

When it comes to writing advice, what’s right in one situation or for a particular writer can be very wrong for another writer or in different circumstances.

To say creative writing is a complex task is to utter one whopper of an understatement.

So let me drive home my main point with a special quote:

“For every complex problem there is a simple solution, and it’s wrong.”
Henry Louis Menkin

What’s to be done?

Please, let me humbly offer a potential solution:

Get to know your Deepest Inner Self.

Some might say your Real Self—down below the personae worn for the sake of society—beyond the doubts and worries of the ego—in that mental space that others can’t reach

If you write from that place you’ll often find yourself, when contemplating your work, saying, “Who the hell wrote this?”

You’ll reach a realm where the “rules” fade-out—where “right” is merely whatever you do—where all authors of any worth go when they say they’re “in the Zone”

Sure, even if you write from that sweet-spot, you’ll want an editor to look over your work.


You’ll also be in a stable state of mind that can confidently tell the editor they’re wrong :-)

Easy to do?

Hell no.


Only if you want your work to be Authentic………
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Writing Advice, Even from Well-Known Authors, Can Be “Dangerous” . . .

The word “dangerous” has the root meaning “power to harm”, based on the Latin dominus, “lord”.

How could advice from established authors “harm” a writer?

Primarily, I feel, by being accepted as hard and fast “rules” or “laws”.

For every “rule” in the books, some book of creative writing has successfully “broken” it :-)

Plus, I’ve weighed in a number of times here on the value and danger of writing advice

Maria Popova has been featured here a number of times and, due to her blog Brain Pickings, I’ll now give you links to a number of authors’ (and, one TV character’s) advice:

Zadie Smith’s 10 Rules of Writing

Kurt Vonnegut’s 8 Tips on How to Write a Great Story

10 Tips on Writing from David Ogilvy

Henry Miller’s 11 Commandments of Writing & Daily Creative Routine

Jack Kerouac’s List of 30 Beliefs and Techniques for Prose and Life

Six Tips on Writing from John Steinbeck

Susan Sontag on Writing

Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing

What are your thoughts and feelings on “writing advice”?

What’s some of your own writing advice??
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