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Jonathan Franzen’s 10 Rules of Writing

Last week, I posted about George Orwell’s rules for writing, so while I’m finishing book #12: The Corrections I thought this would be a great opportunity to check out what Jonathan Franzen has to say on the subject.

This list came from The Guardian:

  1. The reader is a friend, not an adversary, not a spectator.
  2. Fiction that isn’t an author’s personal adventure into the frightening or the unknown isn’t worth writing for anything but money.
  3. Never use the word “then” as a conjunction– we have “and” for this purpose. Substituting “then” is the lazy or tone-deaf writer’s non-solution to the problem of too many “ands” on the page.
  4. Write in the third person unless a really distinctive first-person voice offers itself irresistibly.
  5. When information becomes free and universally accessible, voluminous research for a novel is devalued along with it.
  6. The most purely autobiographical fiction requires pure invention. Nobody ever wrote a more auto biographical story than “The Metamorphosis”.
  7. You see more sitting still than chasing after.
  8. It’s doubtful that anyone with an internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction.
  9. Interesting verbs are seldom very interesting.
  10. You have to love before you can be relentless.

I love #2. I don’t even write fiction, but somehow that resonates with me. How much of fiction comes from that dark place within the author’s soul? How much of fiction is really semi-autobiographical?

I really enjoy seeing how influential writers view their craft, and Franzen is one of the better novelists out there today, or so the critics say. His newest novel, Freedom, looks to be a brilliant story as well. Maybe I’ll read it one day, like, after the next 87 books.

But, for now, back to The Corrections. Feel free to chime in with your thoughts on Franzen’s rules.

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228 Comments Post a comment
  1. My favorite is #7. One assignment I ask my students to do is sit still for 20 minutes and just observe something. Then, they have to write about it. Those paragraphs are so much more interesting than anything else they come up with!

    March 10, 2011
    • valentinedee #

      I absolutely disagree with rule number 1. I don’t want my reader to be a friend. I don’t want him to feel emotionally attached. I want my reader to be an unbiased spectator, looking in for the first time, feeling the emotion from deep within, and letting it surface in ways that are freeing. A friend, can’t do that. I get what he means by “friend” but telling a total stranger a story will arouse more of what I want from a reader.

      March 15, 2011
      • What do you think he means by “friend”?

        March 16, 2011
    • Having a couple of books under my belt, I pondered these rules, wondering whether or not I followed them when I wrote —
      1. True
      2. True
      3. Depends
      4. True
      5. Don’t agree
      6. Absolutely agree — right on the button
      7. True
      8. True
      9. True
      10. True

      March 16, 2011
      • Ursula, you know what I like about your responses? You say “don’t agree.” Do you have ANY idea how rare it is on the Internet for someone to simply say they disagree with someone rather than say they’re “wrong” or stupid or jerks or Nazis? Good for you!

        March 16, 2011
  2. Patti #

    This is a great list – thanks for posting it. ThoughRule #8 is like a knife to the heart!

    March 10, 2011
    • Yes it is. I read that he unplugs his connection when he writes. I don’t think he’s anti-internet or anything, though he’s not on Twitter!

      March 10, 2011
    • I can’t really buy #8; while the internet is a major distraction, it’s impossible to ignore that sometimes it’s easier to boot up a computer than run to the library. Plus it’s almost contradictory to #5… Almost. I guess his point is to research first, then write.

      The cool thing is that these rules apply to music too! I particularly love the sentiment of this: “Fiction that isn’t an author’s personal adventure into the frightening or the unknown isn’t worth writing…” The same thing applies to music for me… You should be scared of your own music.

      March 15, 2011
    • I also liked #8. How many writers work without the Internet at their fingertips? It almost seems that there a pressure to use it since we know so many people have access to it. Does Franzen use the Internet to gather information and then just disconnect when writing? At first I thought he meant not using the Internet, but does he just mean that the connection is too much of a distraction to allow for good concentration while writing?

      March 15, 2011
      • That’s the way I understand it. I think I read where he just unplugs it while he is writing.

        March 15, 2011
  3. writernubbin #

    I’m afraid I have to disagree with #2 a little bit. We can know of something without having the experience. The whole point IMHO is to create the emotion for the reader, not write what you yourself have experienced. I don’t have to experience drug use to know it has devastating consequences. The imagination takes over for the author to write HOW devastating, show it to the reader. As an example, if you write a murder mystery, do you have to go murder someone before you write about murder and how it was done? He may be talking about something else altogether and I’ve missed the point. That wouldn’t be the first time.;)

    Nice post!

    March 10, 2011
    • I think he’s just saying to find that something that scares you and write about it. That could be different for everyone, but digging into that can produce some powerful content. Doesn’t have to be something crazy like murder. But I see what you are saying…we can all write about things we haven’t experienced.

      March 10, 2011
    • I think choosing a subject or material that’s frightening or unknown to us makes us lay all our emotional cards on the table. If we have issues with what we’re writing, then there’s more for us to dig into, explore, ponder and address. I know I’m much more engaged in a piece that trips my triggers.

      And congrats on being Freshly Pressed.

      March 15, 2011
      • Thanks!

        I agree with that. Our fears make for good content.

        March 15, 2011
    • desertnaut #

      Probably you have (i.e. missed the point). If you read again closely, you’ll realize that “experience” is nowhere mentioned.

      March 15, 2011
  4. I thought #2 was more about a writer being willing to take a chance and not just churn out books every year as some genre writers do. That is money writing and I wouldn’t be surprised if Franzen sneers at that.

    March 10, 2011
    • I think it’s a little of both. When you take a “personal adventure into the frightening or unknown” then you will probably take a while to write a book.

      March 10, 2011
      • Absolutely!

        March 11, 2011
  5. Wow, every major writer has something to say on the subject of writing, which is like godsent gifts. Thanks for sharing!

    March 13, 2011
  6. Thank you for sharing that to us.

    March 15, 2011
  7. carrie m #

    I found number 4 a particularly good reminder – I’ve been struggling with point of view in a short story that I wrote and I think Mr. Franzen just gave me my answer.

    March 15, 2011
    • I agree thats a good point

      March 16, 2011
  8. writernubbin #

    Hey! Your post is on the first page of ‘Fresh Pressed’ !! Good for you :)

    March 15, 2011
  9. #2 and #10 are my favorites.

    March 15, 2011
  10. Number 7 is crucial, not only for writing but for all aspects of life.

    March 15, 2011
  11. Congrats on FP! Thanks for sharing what other writers are using to guide their writing. The list sparks thoughts of my own writing values. Great to see #1. We sometimes forget about our reader when we are deeply involved in our process.

    March 15, 2011
  12. I’m not really sure what number 8 means, but number 2 is probably the most important on that list.

    March 15, 2011
    • TDSmith #

      #8? How forever whilst thou write something of import when one is lost in the abyss of something that is not that of that import? Metaphorically, perhaps that would relate to an act of personal gratification without the contact with another to share and magnify said gratification, quite possibly making, in terms of the human experience, said gratification worthless or a thereto similar state of value. Hang up and drive! Pull the plug and write! Anything else is just motions of the hand that mean nothing once done. Cannit bee morr klir?

      March 15, 2011
  13. Interesting, thank you for sharing! I love #10.

    March 15, 2011
  14. Fascinating list — never knew Mr. Franzen was such a fan of the Internet!
    ;)

    Seriously, I’m sitting her pondering a few of his statements, and they seem completely elitist to me. Of course, he has every right to be an elitist considering his stature and accomplishments, but come on … there are so many aspiring writers who want to know how to become better writers — not who need to know why their writing is undoubtedly crap.

    How many of us can live in a vacuum without access to the Internet and its voluminous research?

    The list seems counterintuitive coming from the man who penned #1: The reader is a friend.

    Just my .02…

    March 15, 2011
    • TDSmith #

      Elitist? What is that but a condemnation by and of an elitist? The magic that is his and the words that he shares are exactly that and in them are a gift that, be they of value or not, are only what they are. It is in the critique that one commits the sins of writing… and yes, I am a hypocritical bum of novel proportions, sitting here mashing drivel into the keyboard, ignoring rule number 8 and writing that which does not matter to those that will not read the words I am not writing.
      Oh hell! Time to unplug the router again!
      Bye!

      March 15, 2011
    • I really don’t think he is anti-internet. I think he’s just saying the internet is a huge distraction to writing. I could be wrong, though.

      March 15, 2011
  15. A friend gave me The Corrections to read to inspire me in my own writing. Not only did the quality of Franzen’s work severely intimidate me, but then he goes and says something like #8! Come on, Mr. Franzen! I never did anything to you!

    March 15, 2011
    • The Corrections is really a great book. I would recommend you keep with it. Some really beautifully written stuff, though there are some lulls as well.

      March 15, 2011
  16. My second book, non-fiction, is out in 30 days, and I’d agree with rules 1, 2 and 7.

    When you sit down to write, you have to assume some genuine goodwill and potential curiosity on the part of your readers — or you’re too paralyzed with fear of their criticism, hostility or disinterest (all of which are absolutely possible and entirely likely.)

    Making sure to scare yourself really means shoving your little ego wayyyyyy out of your comfort zone. My first book was nationally reported (I do this all the time in my work); the second scared the bejesus out of me because it is part memoir, forcing me to feel, analyze, describe and share all sorts of very private feelings. Shriek!

    The third is so crucial. In our gogogogogo culture, it’s now considered deeply weird to sit still in silence and solitude. Think. Reflect. Ponder. Muse. Only then can great stuff slowly bubble up.

    Thanks for sharing these.

    March 15, 2011
    • Thanks for stopping by and checking out the blog.

      March 15, 2011
    • I know that driving isn’t doing nothing perse, but that’s when I think of my very best ideas – not only about writing, but about life in general.
      Solitude and taking some time just to think is such a valuable thing.

      I also agree that you need to write from within, like you obviously have in your books. I think, at the moment, I’m just a bit scared to take the step to do that.

      March 15, 2011
    • I totally agree with your comments on Rule 1. Though I think there is room for writing to challenge or agitate readers, if you don’t assume that they’re at least co-adventurers, you’ll never get started.

      March 15, 2011
  17. I don’t write fiction either, but this was very helpful :) I think that some authors may write semi biographies lol thanks for sharing!!

    March 15, 2011
  18. #5 made me think of Sandburg’s Abraham Lincoln. So much research! And how glad I am to own a copy! Yet . . . pooh, I can now access all those facts along with many juicier quasi-facts on the Net. And they are tightening the drawstrings . . .

    March 15, 2011
  19. Congratulations on making FP. And yes, your rules ring so true especially #8….ouch! The only way I can make any progress on my writing is to have the broadband connection go down for a while.

    March 15, 2011
  20. I’m 100 pages into Freedom at the moment, and also working my way through How To Be Alone, so good to read a JF post. I think Franzen is one of the more interesting figures in literature at the moment, as he is one of the few people with a sizable audience and mainstream exposure, yet generally has something worthwhile to say.
    I found these rules a good read earlier this year, and took to heart, “Write in the third person unless a really distinctive first-person voice offers itself irresistibly.” – especially as writing in the first-person always seems like the easier option to me. While I know “It’s doubtful that anyone with an internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction.” is true, I’ve ignored it so far. Hence my word count of zero.

    March 15, 2011
    • Well said. I’ve ignored that rule, too.

      March 15, 2011
  21. I loved Mrs Dalloway & the inter-connectedness of this book. Such an amazing story. The Corrections blew me away. I’m enjoying your posts!

    March 15, 2011
    • Awesome. Come on back. I’ve still got 87 books to read…3 or 4 years worth of reading probably.

      March 15, 2011
  22. #2 doesn’t rest well with me. If we write autobiogaraphically, it is no longer fiction. Sure, you can call it fiction. Doesn’t every book, fiction or non-fiction, written for the money? Fiction is for the imagination. We invent things. We invent A WORLD – that is why you ‘suspend your disbelief.’ Isn’t that the essence of reading fiction?

    March 15, 2011
    • desertnaut #

      Look again – he doesn’t say “write autobiographically”, neither “write about your experiences only”. I perfectly agree with your thesis: we invent things; we invent worlds – but WHAT FOR? (Answer: so as to engage in a personal adventure [...], hence the rule #2)

      March 15, 2011
    • Holly Vandervort #

      Even fiction stories must still be rooted in reality, or it becomes unrelatable to the reader. Take Star Wars for example. It is a total fantasy, but there are still the elements of family dynamics, politics and war. These are all things that people can relate to, and so it enables the viewer/reader to embark on that fantastical, unrealistic journey with the characters. We are able to suspend our disbelief because there is an element of the believable. Writing about something you know, using facets of your own personality, is the foundation to give your story substance and relatability. Your experiences add a sense of truth and texture to the story, and that’s what will draw the reader in and enable them to go along with the lie. Essentially, all fiction tells a lie. Good fiction tells it convincingly. You do that by rooting in truth.

      March 15, 2011
      • TDSmith #

        …all fiction tells a lie. Good fiction tells it convincingly.

        Words rooted in the truth.

        March 15, 2011
    • The basis of fiction comes from something. Authors are always inspired by something that happened in their life or someone else’s life. And, yes, it doesn’t even have to be an “experience,” just an abstract fear. But there’s something going on in their life that is inspiring them. That’s all that I mean by “semi-autobiographical.”

      March 15, 2011
  23. chocolatespacemonkey #

    Its good to know but whoever heeds advice like this sets himself a trap and constantly reinvents himself to get out.

    March 15, 2011
  24. stephenjbartholomew #

    Franzen is a great writer. His rules work for him. But all great writers must define their own set of rules and move beyond them.

    March 15, 2011
    • Absolutely.

      March 15, 2011
  25. I recently read Freedom and loved it. I also read The Corrections, and although I loved that too, I don’t remember a thing about it….which makes me wonder. Anyhow I love “When information becomes free and universally accessible, voluminous research for a novel is devalued along with it.” It’s something I’m thinking about lately: because of blogging, everyone’s a writer, and those who hire us think it’s a snap, and offer bubkes as payment. This has drastically changed the lives of many writers I know, including myself. It’s quite a conundrum.

    March 15, 2011
    • That’s interesting. I’m a writer at my day job (on lunch now responding to comments :) ) and our content director can’t stand hiring writers–because everyone thinks they are a writer. They’ll submit a blog post as a “published” sample. Obviously, I like to blog, and I think it’s awesome that everyone has tools to write these days. But that definitely affects the writing industry, as you say.

      March 15, 2011
  26. I like #1, I often do this. But really, I find it easy to write something as if I am talking to a friend. I like this article. I was looking for some inspiration and this is a good guideline. Thanks.

    March 15, 2011
  27. TheSecretCoAuthor #

    My favourites are #8 and #10.
    #8 is so true!!!

    I just read Freedom. Best book this year so far. Not sure, if there will be a better one.

    March 15, 2011
  28. #7 and #10 are my absolute favorites…requires writing from the deepest place…the heart.

    March 15, 2011
  29. Sharat #

    I think I’ve read these before, and just found them really restrictive. It’s interesting to delve into his mind since he is a successful, yet intelligent writer, from what I hear.

    Internet connections are anathema to getting work done. However, I do not think research is completely devalued by wide accessibility. People write books, fiction and non-fiction, to spread their ideas. Just because I can now spread them via blogs, Twitter, Wikipedia, etc. does not devalue that information, it means I am competing with more producers. That has nothing to do with information overload or noise, and everything to do with the best writing, the most accurate information rising to the top over time. The internet is very young, but already, through Twitter and Facebook, we are seeing meaningful ways of filtering information.

    March 15, 2011
    • True. More noise out there makes it harder to rise to the top. I guess you’ve got to trust, whether it’s a blog or a book, that readers know what’s crap and what’s quality.

      March 15, 2011
    • I agree with you — just because information has become ubiquitous doesn’t mean that research cannot be valued. There’s something tantalizing and enlivening about reading a well-researched work of fiction that you feel like gives you a better view of something, a time period, event, or culture, then works of non-fiction. I’m thinking of some old-school classics like Victor Hugo and Tolstoy, but there are many others.

      March 15, 2011
  30. Rule 1 is good for any creative person. There’s always a fear of what other will think of you and your work. If you find yourselves against the people you are trying to please, it will come through.

    March 15, 2011
  31. Good rules to live by. The internet? Hmm.. without it I would miss this on FP; with it, I’m procrastinating. Back to my writing. Now.

    March 15, 2011
  32. Love, LOVE these rules. You MUST read Freedom. I just finished it a couple months ago and it’s incredible. A very good read indeed.

    March 15, 2011
  33. Must remember #3. Must! Great post.

    March 15, 2011
  34. Holly Vandervort #

    I love this!#2 stood out to me, as well. I write fiction and I like to explore different types of personalities in my characters, but they must always come from facets of my own personality, or I cannot give them much life. The writer takes the journey with the characters; we are not just the narrator. We enter the unknown when we explore those dark facets of ourselves and discover fascinating (and sometimes terrifying) things. Thank you for posting this…and for the inspiration!

    March 15, 2011
    • You’re welcome. #2 is also, by far, my favorite.

      March 15, 2011
  35. I think that all fiction necessarily comes out of the author’s experience of the world. How could it be otherwise? I think it’s possible that the most engaging stories come from the places deepest within us. It doesn’t have to be autobiographical in the sense that we tell stories of “exactly” what happened to us but that we create images that speak of ourselves…even when we don’t mean to. Wow…I’m meandering today.

    I have to disagree with the internet bit though. I think internet can be distracting but doesn’t have to be. I do admit that, when I’m working on a piece, I do not allow myself to go online to look anything up until I’ve finished my writing goal. That way, I don’t get sidetracked. But I like having at my fingertips for when I do break and need to research, etc.

    March 15, 2011
  36. Great article! Sensible rules, too.

    March 15, 2011
  37. #8 leaves me with the definite impression that I’m screwed. Of course, if it weren’t for #8, I wouldn’t be replying here either. But what the hell. Writing bad fiction is better than not writing at all.

    #3, well… I’d have to say this is a style decision. Or maybe he’s right and I’m just a lazy writer. I can’t say for sure that I frequently find reason to use “then” instead of “and” but I’m certain I have done so. I thought about it, I considered it, and then I wrote it. But then I may have edited it out. I don’t really remember!

    #5 is interesting.

    March 15, 2011
    • I wouldn’t worry about #8. As long as the constant noise of the internet doesn’t distract you from writing, then I wouldn’t worry about it.

      March 15, 2011
      • Okay, I went through my entire current manuscript looking for instances of “and then.” There were at least 20! I was disgusted. After looking at them for a while, I decided he was right. The thing is, I normally write technical documentation. A lot of that is step-wise procedures. “And then” in that context provides a secondary step in a sentence. “Click the X button, and then close the window.” Of course, in narrative-based writing, this is completely unnecessary. But it’s a habit I’ve gotten used to. I think he’s right though. I corrected most of them. There were only a few (all in dialog) where I think they sounded okay – mainly because people do speak like this. “First I’m gonna go home and then I’m gonna kick my own ass!”

        March 18, 2011
  38. Jonathan Franzen’s name caught my attention – of course I want to know his tips to writing a great novel. But just like The Secret didn’t tell me the secret to life, this list won’t help me in anyway.
    Silly me – and I really thought Franzen would give away the farm…

    March 15, 2011
    • Deanna :o) That is the most awesome thing about Universal knowledge, it is not really a “secret”! That is why you did not get any new knowledge in reading those things, because in the make up of your Human Being, you already contained that knowledge. I am sure many people will say that there have been times where they needed to do something they had never actually done before, but some how had a good Idea of how to go about getting it done. The thing we do glean is affirmation that the things we already innately are driven to do are the same fundamentals as those we admire. And also the confidence that we already have what it takes to be like those we look up to. I have not read The Secret or any other of the most popular authors on Universal Laws and Human behavior b/c I figured enough others had read that information I would get it by osmosis! :0D I checked out your blog and am going to subscribe. You shine and keep at it…you are doing GREAT!

      March 16, 2011
  39. My favorite is #1, because writing, like singing can fall on deaf ears because unless the person reading it is a “friend”, they might not like what you say. But friends are more forgiving. They might not think it is your best work, but they won’t totally forget about you over one written piece or one song.

    Loved the post and well worth being Freshly Pressed.

    Blessings,

    Ava
    xox

    March 15, 2011
  40. Abigail #

    Totally agree with number 8. In fact, I’ve been working on a list of things to remember while I work on my new novel and one of them is that facebook and wordpress can continue without me for a little bit. :)

    And number 4 can be very true, which is strange because most new writers tend to start in first person. But, when you know, you know. Same as writing in present tense.

    March 15, 2011
  41. I like 7 in particular.
    You see more sitting still than chasing after.
    Ironically I’ve used a similar approach to teaching photography. Don’t simply point the camera. Look at what the subject is, and what you want to do with it. Only after a bit of ‘sitting’ should you even consider the camera.

    But when it comes to writing, I also like Maugham’s classic:
    There are three rules for writing the novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.

    March 15, 2011
    • Yep, it’s so subjective. I thought Franzen had great insights, though. Very true about #7.

      March 15, 2011
  42. woh this thing will help me surely when i write next time….good job…condensing tips like this…
    Check out my photo blog some time here…
    http://www.avikabir.wordpress.com
    best

    March 15, 2011
  43. I don’t like rules.

    I read your post top to bottom and enjoyed it. Thank you.

    March 15, 2011
  44. But as ever, rules are made to be broken.

    Take what you need and run with it. Ignore the rest.

    Jim

    March 15, 2011
  45. What a great list! Numbers 5 and 8 certainly gave me a good nudge.

    March 15, 2011
  46. I can agree with all of them but #8. Thanks for sharing!

    March 15, 2011
  47. Rule #0:

    There are no rules for writing, merely guidelines and suggestions.

    March 15, 2011
  48. LOL@ rule number 8. And number 10 is such a beautiful sentiment. I am going to print these and put them on my notice board- these are brilliant! Thanks for sharing these!!

    March 15, 2011
  49. perfect!

    March 15, 2011
  50. heartwriter #

    I too am a non-fiction writer at this point in my life and love Rule #2. I find Rule #4 highly interesting as I am reading Freedom and having a hard time with his third person narrative.

    March 15, 2011
  51. I also like #2
    I find articles far more compelling if there is an element of personal experience or passion woven into it.

    I will remember these!

    March 15, 2011
  52. After reading Freedom, I can see that Franzen does follow his rules, and they produce brilliant results. I love #9. Just be honest with yourself and your writing, instead of trying to make it scream with vocabulary.

    March 15, 2011
  53. I’m another one who loves rule number 2! It really does strike a chord. One of my favorite authors, Octavia Butler, used to say that she wrote to deal with issues that frightened her. I wonder how many other wonderful authors do that?

    Thanks for your post!
    Susan from Richard Burges Library Blog

    March 15, 2011
  54. creative non-fiction. a blend of the real and the not so real.

    March 15, 2011
  55. I like Franzen, but number one is a huge mistake. Fiction is a landmine of opportunity to engage an audience, and put distance between them and the audience. As a screenwriter, I have to engage the audience, but I don’t believe that is absolutely neccesary in fiction. Just look at Dostoevsky’s Notes On The Underground for an example

    March 15, 2011
  56. 8.It’s doubtful that anyone with an internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction.

    I hate to admit how very true this is, haha! I have to shut it all down when I sit down and work on my novel. It really takes all of a person to write a quality novel.

    March 15, 2011
  57. this was brillaint :D

    March 15, 2011
  58. chloecjs #

    Thanks for posting this! I agree with you about #2. Anything that makes you cry or reluctant to pursue is definitely worth writing about.

    March 15, 2011
  59. #2 is interesting for me. For years, when I wrote, I got frustrated as my personal fears and adventures started to emerge in the text. It’s a relief to know that this is expected and even good. K

    March 15, 2011
  60. Fabulous. Rule number 7 is so true for me.

    March 15, 2011
  61. Elyj #

    I needed this today. I was doubting my writing abilities like every writer out there, and this article re-encouraged me to think positive. Writing is a journey of learning about who we are and what we think. W.H. Auden the poet said, “We don’t know what we think until we write it down.”

    Along the journey we pick up new tools. It’s full of sense to think that if you want to be great, study those who are doing great, and it appears that you are actively doing that. I’m jealous.

    March 15, 2011
  62. Like the list #7 is the one I like the most.

    March 15, 2011
  63. On #1….I write with the reader in mind, but I’ve never considered them my friend. I want to make sure my writing is clear, tight and easy to understand. Before now the customer was a customer I am trying to please and delight. Considering them a friend might actually change and improve my writing. Thanks.

    March 15, 2011
  64. If I had to bother with rules, I’d never get any quality writing done. ^_^

    March 15, 2011
  65. #9 is funny. This rule is similar to another writing rule I’ve read recently. It seems like keeping it simple is the way to go, which made realize: This must be how language gets dumbed down. Keep it simple and all the simple words we read over time, will be the ones that live on. Shakespeare was written for “common people” and today’s common people struggle to understand him. I can’t criticize this rule, since I utilize it, I’m sorry, I use it daily.

    March 15, 2011
  66. #1 is my favorite. I do that sometimes. Without knowing it, my thoughts would drift and when I write, feel like I’m talking to someone out there…hehehe

    March 15, 2011
  67. Franzen is a joy to read. And so much of this list can be applied to life. As for the “rules” part, this is what has worked for Franzen, and it has works admirably.

    March 15, 2011
  68. I really like number one. I would rather think of the reader as a friend while I edit my WIP than anything else.

    March 15, 2011
  69. Peter #

    “1. The reader is a friend, not an adversary, not a spectator.”

    Hmmm, that’s odd, because being a spectator is exactly the feeling I got from “The Corrections”, one of the most overrated, boring, self-indulgent, unpleasant books I’ve ever read (though very well written). Too often, for me, Franzen’s work has a aloof smugness that definitely does not make me feel like a friend. Then again, I disagree with that rule anyway so…

    March 15, 2011
    • Got to disagree with you there, Peter. The book didn’t have some lulls, but I thought it was an unbelievable read. I don’t know whether Franzen is smug or not, but I thought his writing and his work is pretty impressive. But I know a lot of people, like you, who aren’t crazy about him.

      March 15, 2011
  70. I have to print n°8 and hang it over my desk. Pure Truth.
    Nice blog, by the way!

    March 15, 2011
  71. TP-1 #

    These rules are extremely accurate, however I do agree with rule number 1 though sometimes writing for yourself can be a reward in itself.

    However the best writing is the stuff that makes you go hmmm….

    March 15, 2011
  72. TPSOL since 1994 #

    I have to agree with rule number 1, writers should think of readers as friends and nothing else. Though writing for yourself can reap rewards also.

    March 15, 2011
  73. Congrats on freshly pressed!
    Wonderful list!

    # 2 resonates with me because it’s like I need to write what I know and have experienced to be able to write with conviction and writing is a bit semi-autobiographical. Although, I believe it’s also not necessary on the other side of the coin, if the writer is exceptionally great at writing what she doesn’t know, too. Always, exceptions to rule, based on talent.

    Mmmh. Let me go count the number of “thens” I have.

    March 15, 2011
  74. Interesting post.

    I have somewhat of a knee jerk reaction to #5, but perhaps I’m biased for investigative research. Just because information is free and available doesn’t mean that most people know how to find it. At my old gig as a University instructor, I was surprised how often I had to tell students to “put their detective hats on” because research did not come easily to them.

    Besides, an engaging writer knows how to communicate information (that may or may not be accessible) in a fresh and captivating way.

    - 2cents

    March 15, 2011
  75. eileenleyva #

    I have apprehensions with #9. My daughter says annihilate is an interesting verb.

    March 15, 2011
  76. I like number 9, at least in cases of dialogue attribution. Any synonym of said will never, ever replace said. Said makes itself invisible, and that is why it is the word you use after dialogue. :)

    March 15, 2011
  77. #10 is definitely my favorite and probably with what I struggle with the most.

    March 15, 2011
  78. Less use of “then”! Something I struggle with immensely.

    March 15, 2011
  79. Wow, that Times cover is so pretentious.

    March 15, 2011
  80. Rules #2 and #20 really sing to me. I agree with them all, but those in particular. Good advice for all writers. My editor will love #3. Heh.

    March 15, 2011
  81. I like 3, 8, & 10! Thanks for this great post!

    March 15, 2011
  82. Hi there Robert. What a great idea for a blog. Good luck with the reading list. Oh, and #4 kills me. It’s just so fun to be sardonic in the first person!
    Warmly,
    Courtney

    March 15, 2011
    • Thanks! Glad you are enjoying the blog.

      March 15, 2011
  83. “Write in the third person unless a really distinctive first-person voice offers itself irresistibly.”

    I think this depends upon your audience. I really enjoy young adult literature and if it is written in third person, I find it rather dull.

    Sometimes the perspective you choose can be heavily influenced by your target market.

    March 15, 2011
  84. I absolutely disagree with “rules of writing” in general. All rules will be broken at one time or another by a writer. All any aspiring writer need do is find and read the classics and understand them and then write, write, write. One can absorb the flow and form and rhythm of the poem, the song, the novel, the white paper with repeated exposure to those forms.

    The key to writing is writing.

    March 15, 2011
    • No doubt. I think the key is to pick and choose what works for you and disregard the others. Every writer has their own “rules” or guidelines….but I love seeing how the best do what they do as well.

      March 15, 2011
  85. jenashmen #

    We make rules, then we break them.

    March 15, 2011
  86. I have to agree with Mikale Byerman, as I thought exactly the same thing when I read this list. It was elitist, unfriendly, pontificating and just put me off me a little him as a person.

    And who writes things like #8 that anybody who uses the internet cannot write good fiction – maybe he is trying to be funny…I don’t know.

    Sure he is brilliant and making a gazillion dollars as a writer, but that shouldn’t excuse him from being helpful and encouraging to others in his field.

    As Mikale here noted: the list seems counterintuitive coming from the man who penned #1: The reader is a friend.

    March 15, 2011
    • I didn’t get that sense. I think he’s just saying that you can’t write good fiction if you’re plugged into the internet while working. It’s distracting.

      But I know you’re not the first that’s said that about him. But I think he has some really good thoughts, whether he’s elitist or not.

      March 15, 2011
  87. Awesome advice and thanks.

    March 15, 2011
  88. bethcams #

    I think the affinity for writing is something those in this field should, without doubt, have. Other necessary traits are the ability to express ideas clearly in writing, good judgment, creativity, self motivation and curiosity. Editors should have the ability to guide others.

    March 15, 2011
  89. Loved #7, thanks for sharing this, its good to see there’s still a lot of good info in the net. Keep up the good work.

    March 15, 2011
  90. Roda #

    Hi,
    A point of view on writing is interesting to read as it hones our creative thinking processes. Fiction is not my genre…… but infinite opportunities exist for the person who thinks he can. Having read almost all the classics and a lot of fiction too….before most people have even begun to read….. I have crossed over to mind psychology. Now this is a subject worth delving into for it opens up for every reader the real meaning of the word “I” …like as in “who am “I”, what is my reason for being on this earth, am I headed in the right direction to my life’s goals. That we are put on this earth for a reason is a given…there is no argument on that..so then am I aware of the reason for my existence ? Should I then not be in a hurry to find the real reason for my very existence ? The earlier I begin the faster I reach there causing me a shorter learning curve. Have I scared you ? In fact the very opposite is true…I wish to help you eliminate your fears..for they are what holds back achievements be it success, happiness …the list can be endless………..which we all richly deserve and can have if we truly desire them.

    March 15, 2011
  91. This is a great list – thanks for posting it

    March 16, 2011
  92. marjoriekaye #

    I don’t follow rules.

    March 16, 2011
    • Yes, isn’t that why people write fiction instead of non-fiction?

      March 16, 2011
  93. bloowillbooks #

    I’m a bit concerned by #2. ‘Then’ is a conjunctive adverb, ‘and’ is a conjunction. The first is used to link cause and effect or event and subsequent (linked) events. The second is used to link clauses, sentences or words in a list. I can’t imagine anyone would presume they’re interchangeable. Seems a strange thing to list as a rule.

    Don’t mind the rest of them though.

    March 16, 2011
  94. Mmutle Arthur Kgokong/posthighdef21 #

    i relate to no 1 and 8 rules. the reader must walk with the author through the narrative and must be held by a hand through the intricasies of the story and its construction. the internet connection can urge one to check emails or update their status on the social networking when one is faced with a crises (block) of where to take the reader.

    March 16, 2011
  95. I agree strongly with #8. Serious writing needs space for dedication. People who constantly have several possible interesting distractions from what they should be focusing on will probably not be good readers either.

    Said the monk: Language becomes more abundant. Our relationship with it changes. We will soon consider it only a tool, not a thing to admire. But while tools are made for building, fiction is still a variation of holy.

    March 16, 2011
  96. I liked the way you described these rules. However, writers usually have their own personalities. The writer’s personality needs time to develop along with their ability to take heed to the technical hand of writing. Personality and point of view are interwoven together when they’re both are different. Anyone can have a point of view. To learn how to visualize characters and create new worlds within the virtual unconsciousness, a writer must develop the inventive aspects over writing. Furthermore, learning creativity should come first, and learning technical writing should come afterwards. The individuals, who learn how to write creative first then learn how to write technical, will be able to become better writers than someone who just got their Master’s in English. However, this process takes years to accomplish for some individuals. If a writer learns technical first then there is a limited space for creativity. When looking at a piece of written work, does the editor see the creativeness in the piece, or do he or she see the technical aspects of the work? In my point of view, the writer should see both.
    http://horrorwriterdkw.wordpress.com
    Sincerely,
    Daton
    L
    Fluker

    March 16, 2011
  97. i’m an amateur writer, these are big help to me. thanks

    March 16, 2011
  98. I used to have a writing space that had no internet connection. I got a lot more done.

    As for writing about the frightening, I’ve always admired writers who have the guts to have children die, spouses get raped, businesses go bust, and limbs get detached. Maybe that’s why I write non-fiction.

    March 16, 2011
  99. Great post, and love all the tips. Ill be back to check on them when I begin my novel. Congrats on being Freahly Pressed.

    March 16, 2011
  100. Number 7 is pretty great- It’s true how many amazing things happen around us, and you don’t have to hunt for them necessarily; just look around you.

    March 16, 2011
  101. Mark as read later.

    March 16, 2011
  102. How I cherish great writing. Because of my studies on the Holocaust, I have learned minimal is best. No needy verbs, no ripe adjectives. I once heard that is you are a great English writer, you need no adjectives. We have all the verbs a writer will ever need to do her writing justice. Thank you for reminding the writers among us of the importance of writing rules. We have enough Danielle Steele’s thank you.

    March 16, 2011
    • “I once heard that is you are a great English writer, you need no adjectives. We have all the verbs a writer will ever need to do her writing justice.”

      No chance: It is possible to write excellent literature with a low proportion of adjectives, but an attempt to live without them would be like driving a car that can only drive forward and turn right—an interesting challenge, but not something for practical, everyday driving. The point would rather be to avoid excesses of adjectives. (Where, obviously, a further dependency on personal taste enters the picture.)

      March 17, 2011
  103. “if” you are a great writer . Also, always re-read out loud before posting. Sheesh.

    March 16, 2011
  104. JP #

    #8…Oh no. I’m writing my fiction novel at my workplace, which has an internet connection (it’s the only place I get the peace and quiet to do so). Does this mean I’m writing bad fiction?

    March 16, 2011
  105. S. Thomas Summers #

    Number 7 is key. I’m a poet. Many feel that one must move to write, one must travel – go, go, go. Number 7 is key.

    March 16, 2011
  106. Congrats on Freshly Pressed and another deserving post they picked! These are so fundamental, but we forget those as we go along our writing way. The computer comment I think speaks to an age mind set and I think that everyone will get to that point in their life. The realization that there is a different creative energy that happens when we write with pen and paper that when we write on a computer screen. Not to say that the Muses don’t visit the writer regardless of where or how they are penning their prose, but almost everything really wonderful I have written started on a piece of paper with a hand written idea. Plus the internet can divide our attention, so it does have to be scheduled so we can maintain a flow. #4, #3 and #1 are my top three picks of basics we all should remember. One rule I always use is the word then usually equals a period instead.
    Thanks again and have a great week!

    March 16, 2011
  107. Number 10 is by far my favorite, because I struggle with it the most.

    March 16, 2011
  108. GREAT LIST! I tweeted, FB and Digg’ed it, can’t wait to show my gf tonight, she’s the real writer I more play at it when not doing design. Thanks!

    March 17, 2011
    • Glad you enjoyed it. Thank Jonathan Franzen, not me!

      March 25, 2011
  109. I loved The Corrections and I love Franzen’s 10 rules as well; I wouldn’t treat those rules as a set of commandments (nor do I think they’re meant as such) but he’s a brilliant writer, and yes, I’m going to listen to his advice very carefully.

    March 17, 2011
  110. Great Post. I completely believe in rule #1, and #8 is all too true.

    March 18, 2011
  111. pkg #

    I completely agree with sitting still idea. It is like being able to wake up inner forces or your mind when you sit still and not worry about external factors.
    http://iandbooks.wordpress.com/

    March 22, 2011
  112. travellingrome #

    Great rules!perfect to start writing!the reader is a person, he will be his choise become our friend, enemy, spectator

    March 24, 2011
  113. I was new in the world of bloggers so please guidance yes, And thank you for sharing these on your blog, And your blog is very useful to me.

    March 29, 2011
  114. #6 is contradictory. Novels are fiction. There are novels based on true events. But “purely autobiographical” fiction can NEVER be “pure invention,” much less “requires” it.

    March 29, 2011
  115. I used to have a writing space that had no internet connection. I got a lot more done.

    As for writing about the frightening, I’ve always admired writers who have the guts to have children die, spouses get raped, businesses go bust, and limbs get detached. Maybe that’s why I write non-fiction.

    April 7, 2011
  116. I found number 4 a particularly good reminder – I’ve been struggling with point of view in a short story that I wrote and I think Mr. Franzen just gave me my answer.

    April 12, 2011
  117. I love this so much! Thanks for posting this! This really resonates for me.
    “2. Fiction that isn’t an author’s personal adventure into the frightening or the unknown isn’t worth writing for anything but money.”

    September 8, 2011
  118. Good post! I have been flirting with the idea of picking up a Franzen novel for a while now. Regarding the rules, it’s nice to have rules some of the time but seriously, how often do you think writers follow their own rules?

    September 8, 2011
  119. A few of these seem to be personal preferences more than rules. Perhaps this was supposed to be autobiographical as much as it was expository?

    September 8, 2011
  120. Nice post. I agree with most of the rules, while the others got me thinking. And quite frankly, they’re rather funny, and the writer doesn’t seem to take himself too seriously. That I like.

    October 10, 2011
  121. excellent issues altogether, you just won a emblem new reader. What could you suggest about your publish that you simply made a few days in the past? Any positive?

    October 15, 2011
  122. Twanda Supry #

    Ok so I am thinking about removing my blog from Tumbler and get it to a WordPress blog. I think this is a wordpress blog right? If it is, may I ask where you got the theme? Thanks a bunch!

    March 24, 2012
  123. nathan #

    i agree valentinedee

    May 13, 2012
  124. Thanks for this list. Thought-provoking, and a combination of the profound and tongue-in-cheek (I hope). In particular, the internet connection at the workplace could pose a problem for many of us. I still need to read a Franzen novel.

    December 26, 2012
  125. David Buckley #

    Don’t understand the implications of Number 5. Does he mean do some more obscure research, don’t bother with research, or research is now comfortably easier?

    April 9, 2013
  126. Ooh. Just love 1 and 2. The reader is part of the creator and someone you want to give a gorgeous treat to. When you get emails from readers who love different aspects and characters for different reasons, you know your book is getting recreated in each person’s mind. And 2 is so true, too. It’s painful to put on the page and you expose yourself to the world and it’s where the magic happens. Happy reading. :)

    November 20, 2013

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