The 15 laws of literary life every writer should know

15 laws of literary life every writer should know

If you’re not a writer, you probably have a certain perception of literary life. Take Hollywood. It just loves to portray the drink and drug addled escapades of wild writers like Hemingway, Hunter S. Thompson and Truman Capote. Sadly, or happily, depending upon your liver, the truth is a little more mundane. Here’s 15 universal truths, which I’ve unearthed from half a dozen years’ banging at keys and gazing at a flickering cursor.

1. Where before you had real-life, flesh and bone friends, 96% of your social life will now occur online.

2. Hemingway said in order to write you just need to sit at a desk and open a vein. When things are going badly, it’s important to remember this is a metaphor.



3. Most of your best ideas will surface at 4am, when you don’t have pen and paper on your bedside table, and you have a hangover.

4. Your family will be convinced a character is either based on them or actually them. Nothing you say will persuade them otherwise.

5. In the morning, yesterday’s words that you regarded sublime, will seem mediocre.

6. In the morning, yesterday’s words that you regarded mediocre, will seem the worst thing anyone has ever written.

7. Everyone you meet at parties (ha, like you get to go to parties) will be either writing a novel, be about to, or know someone who is. They will want to talk about this (see #2).

8. Nobody will notice or care if you grow a beard. Especially if you’re a man.

9. Coffee and biscuits are the other 4% of your friends (see #1).

10. Dividing money earned into hours spent will end badly (see #2 again).

11. There are some lovely and wonderful fellow writers out there. You will never meet them.



12. When you send your manuscript to your agent or editor after two years of blood, sweat and tears, a glorious, warm feeling rises within you. This lasts for ninety seconds. Move on to the next book.

13.  Nobody understands what you really do. Except other writers (none of whom you will meet) and perhaps the cat.

14. That dull office job you once had, with regular income and holidays and colleagues and fixed hours and Christmas parties and sick pay and a pension looks more appealing each year.

15. You know it’s a bad week when even your online stalker emails to criticise your latest book.



15literarylaws Tom Vowler is an award-winning novelist and short story writer living in south west England. His debut collection, The Method, won the Scott Prize in 2010, and his novel What Lies Within received critical acclaim. He is editor of the literary journal Short Fiction and an associate lecturer in creative writing at Plymouth University. His second novel, That Dark Remembered Day, was published in 2014.

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7 replies

  1. Brilliant! Funny because it’s so true. Especially No.4

    I’ve even had people ask me to include them or at least use their name. Go figure

  2. God! The amount of times I’ve suffered number 7. Or the famous line, “I know I have a novel in me. It’s just writing it.” Yeah, correct. It’s the just writing it bit that matters.

  3. Soooo true. Makes you wonder why so many people aspire to dedciate themselves to the written word. It’s certainly not the money 🙂

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