Perfect Advice For The Aspiring . . . Anything

While taking a break from editing my latest chapter, I ran across two powerful quotes said by William Somerset Maugham, an English short story writer, novelist, and playwright.

I’ll admit that I didn’t know much about him before I stumbled upon his quotes, but you can be sure I’ll be taking a look at the old bloke’s work.

Anyway, without further ado, the perfect advice for an aspiring __________.


“Habits in writing as in life are only useful if they are broken as soon as they cease to be advantageous.” –W. Somerset Maugham

“There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, nobody knows what they are.” –W. Somerset Maugham


Yes, these quotes talk about writing–sue me, I’m a writer!–but they can easily be applied to anything else: writing/performing music, drawing, marketing, etc.

I’m sure everyone can interpret the quotes above differently; “advantageous” is one of those subjective words: advantageous to whom? The performer? The audience? If some of your audience is turned off by parts of your performance, is it because of a bad habit that should be changed?

Or does “advantageous” relate to how much your work makes sense to you as the creator, how much you enjoy your work?

I interpreted “advantageous” in terms of myself, a writer, and how much my own work makes sense to me.

The truth in Maugham’s words are apparent not just when I sit down and write but also when I pick up any book that I love or am falling in love with. If there do exist some solid rules for writing, I’ve yet to meet any writer who hasn’t broken them in some form.

And many of them have written spectacular, best selling works.

It also rings true when I comment on the art, videos, and writing of my fellow WordPressing bloggers.None of you write or draw the same as any other blogger, and I admire all of you for it.

We each have writing or drawing habits that we tend to stick to, but it’s important to not treat them as dogma for the sake of appearing consistent and professional.

I know I’ve been harping on about the whole “don’t follow writing rules blindly” schtick, but my passion for that idea is heightened every time I pick up a book or read a blog these days.

Ok, going back to editing.



6 comments on “Perfect Advice For The Aspiring . . . Anything

  1. When I did Graphics, with a really old school teacher (he was fantastic), he suggested that is good to at least know the rules, so that you can break them deliberately and with purpose.
    Not 100% sure how this applies to writing, as I don’t think there are so many hard and fast ‘rules’, but one hell of a lot of ‘guidelines’, but perhaps Joyce did it when he wrote completely without punctuation?

    • You know, I had a literature professor who said the same thing, Kat. We actually studied Joyce and a few other authors who broke a lot of rules (I believe Walt Whitman was one of them, but I may be wrong). He was pretty adamant that these great authors didn’t use commas or punctuation out or randomness; they knew all the grammar rules very well, and chose not to follow them.

      I’d have to agree with that sentiment; I can imagine that in art, you learn fundamentals of whatever you hope to do (painting, drawing, sculpting, etc.) so that you have something to build upon. Or, you can choose to veer away and do your own thing, but you at least know what the “norm” is and why it’s the norm.

      I guess my thoughts are something like “whether you think a book is good or not is a matter of opinion, not fact, so regardless of the rules you follow or techniques you use when writing a book, some people are going to like your book and some aren’t.” Or something like that.

      Ah, you brought back some college writing memories and offered a different lens to view my writing through. Thanks so much Kat.

  2. Mark Twain once said “I didn’t have time to write you a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.” Editing, man. It’s important.

    Good quotes, though. If the point of writing is to convey something, and rules are generally agreed upon good ways to do that, and if you can break them and still convey something, then you’re still writing well. For example, the last sentence was poorly written. No time to edit.

  3. I find myself guilty when it comes to trying to follow the rules of punctuation and the structure of writing that so many have stuck too, wanting my own style to be accepted by others as they have been accepted and praised for. I seem to write better–so much better–when I decide to write for the heak of it in my journals because it’s more connected with what I feel at the moment, making it more believable and compelling, and when I start continue with my novel I constantly wonder why I can’t write like I do in my undedicated work. By self-revelation I figure it has to do with the fact that I turn the production of my book into a chore because I want it to be the best it can be.
    It may also be severe procrastination and the belief that my writing is crappy and as dull as a pebble that inhibits my abilities…who knows.
    Great post as always.

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