Guest Blogger: Bill Crider – How to Write a Novel

survivors will be shot again finalHow to Write a Novel by Bill Crider

I’m sure you’re read Somerset Maugham’s wise words about novel writing before, but they bear repeating, mainly because I’m going to elaborate on them for a bit.  Here they are: “There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.”

My first novel was published the year I turned forty.  You could say I was a late bloomer, and I guess that’s true.  I’d always wanted to write, but I hadn’t known how to go about it.  I thought there was some arcane secret method that everyone knew but me.  So naturally I set out to learn what it was.

Having been a reader all my life, I assumed that the secret method would be found in a book, and I set out to read as many books about writing as I could get my hands on.  I read Writers Digest and The Writer.  I listened to writers talk about their habits.

You probably know where this is going, so I’ll keep it short.  I never did find out the secret.  What I did between the living and the dead (2)find out was that there was no secret.  Just as Maugham said, there are rules, but nobody knows what they are, least of all me.  Even after having written fifty or sixty books (but who’s counting?), I still don’t know.  Every time I sit down and see the words “Chapter One,” I feel as if I’ll never get any further.  But somehow I do.

How do I do it?  Well, I’ve adopted what I like to call the Alice in Wonderland approach.  When the White Rabbit asks the King where he (the Rabbit, not the King) should begin, the King answers, “Begin at the beginning and go on till you come to the end: then stop.”

So the answer (for me) turned out to be in a book, after all, even though it wasn’t a book where I expected to find an answer.  It happens that for me, there was only one rule for writing a novel, not three, and it worked out unexpectedly well when I finally put it into practice.  And now that I’ve come to the end of this little commentary, I’m going to stop.

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50 075BILL CRIDER is a former college English teacher and is the author of more than fifty published novels and an equal number of short stories. He’s won two Anthony awards and a Derringer Award, and he’s been nominated for the Shamus and the Edgar awards.  His latest novel in the Sheriff Dan Rhodes series is Between the Living and the Dead. His new one, Survivors Will Be Shot Again, will be out in August from St. Martin’s Press.  Check out his homepage at, or take a look at his peculiar blog at

25 thoughts on “Guest Blogger: Bill Crider – How to Write a Novel”

  1. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you, Mr, Crider! When I began writing I did the same thing you did. I read everything I could about the craft. But, in the end, the two best things to do was read and read great fiction, even nonfiction. Mr. Maugham, being one of my favorites, taught me, through his humility, that every writer must find their own voice, and that only comes with writing. As you say, start at the beginning, then stop when you come to the end. It might be at 80,000 words or 200,000 words. We’re story tellers, not machines. Whatever it takes to tell the tale, that is what works. Thank you, again.

  2. Bill, always good to hear the Words of the Wise 😉 I am, even now, seeking the nonexistent secret, too. Good post.

    Thanks for hosting Mr. Crider, Deborah.

  3. Bill, this certainly made me smile like the Cheshire cat. Everything you say is just right. Reading and writing a lot seems to me to be the secret. The brain works in mysterious ways, and I think the more we use it, the better it gets.

  4. Bill,

    I enjoyed your guest blog! We all know what an accomplished author you are. I suppose there’s no secret to being a writer–you just have to write. It’s work but for many of us it’s worth the effort.

    1. I think Bill has the biggest secret figured out, as evidenced by his body of work. I only wish his beginning to end approach and my work ethic matched. Appreciate you leaving a comment today.

  5. Thanks for the kind words, folks. All I know is that works for me. We all have different ways of getting from here to there.

  6. Great encouragement, Mr. Crider, and I loved Somerset Maugham’s quote. If you think of the King’s advice to the White Rabbit as possibly being one of Someset Maugham’s rules, E. L. Doctorow may have revealed another one: “Writing is an exploration. You start from nothing and learn as you go.” I think I’ll put the two together and frame them for my wall. Thanks. Marilyn (aka cj petterson)

  7. Susan Oleksiw

    Wonderful post, reminding us that the secret is hard work. I often think of Maugham’s advice when I find myself struggling (which is often). And I love Doctorow’s advice also. But you’re absolutely right, Bill. We learn as we go and the important thing is to write.

  8. Tell it like it is, or as you see it.

    There’s no secret except to sit down and write until your fingers bleed. Put something on them and keep writing.

    Thanks for spell-check her, by the way. I desperately need it for the typos.

    Jack Bludis

    1. Kevin,
      Hope and perseverance are what keeps us going in terms of our work and everything else in life. Bill certainly has a way of putting the two into perspective. Thanks for stopping by (and for reposting the blog)

  9. Pingback: The Traditional Mystery: A Roundtable Discussion | CrimeReads

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