Advice for aspiring writers

When you start writing, there is a bewildering number of websites and blogs giving advice about how to do it.  Lists of rules and tips are particularly popular. I bet you’ve come across them already: ’10 Tips for Writing a Good Book’ (it’s usually 10; sometimes, just to be different, it’s 9 or 11),  The 20 Habits of Successful Authors, 25 Insights into How to Write a Best-seller…  on and on.

They’re very appealing.  Writing a book is a long, hard struggle and it’s tempting to believe there’s some sort of template, some trick of the trade that successful writers know about and you don’t, and if they’re kind enough to tell you what to do it’ll be easy.

The flaw in this sort of reasoning is that planning a book and looking for how-to rules isn’t the same as planning a meal and browsing through a cookery book to find a recipe.  By and large, recipes for making pastry may differ slightly but they have the same principles behind them and if you obey them it will come out right.  If that was true for writing there would be no such thing as an unsuccessful author.

Rules, tips and lists have no unifying principle. Often they contradict each other, some, for instance, advise ‘Plan meticulously’, others  say ‘Go with the flow.’

The aspiring writer ends up like the centipede in the little poem:  ‘A centipede was happy quite/Until a frog in fun/ Said “Pray, which leg comes after which?”/ That raised her mind to such a pitch/She lay distracted in a ditch/Considering how to run.’  Read too many bits of advice and you end up going round in circles.

Somerset Maugham, one of the most successful English novelists of the early 20th Century, said, ‘There are three rules for writing a novel.  Unfortunately no one knows what they are.’ He knew what he was talking about.

If you want to write a book, if you have a story that you absolutely must share, just sit down and write it.  There’s no such thing as a shortcut.

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Aline Templeton grew up in the fishing village of Anstruther, in the East Neuk of Fife. She has worked in education and broadcasting and was a Justice of the Peace for ten years. Married, with two grown-up children and three grandchildren, she now lives in a house with a view of Edinburgh Castle. When not writing, she enjoys cooking, choral singing, and traveling the back roads of France.


  1. Thanks so much for featuring this author and allowing us to benefit from her experience as an author. Some very good advice here!


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