Writers on Writing: Jonathan Franzen’s 10 Rules

Jonathan Franzen is a big name in contemporary literature. I haven’t read any of his books yet–though I want to–but, as a teacher of reading and writing (and, of course, as a reader and writer myself) I found this blogger’s posting of Franzen’s 10 Rules for Writing insightful.*

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.

Essentially: Don’t try to impress your reader. Venture into unknown territory. Autobiography requires inventiveness (“The Metamorphsis” is a short, disturbing read; check it out to get the full whallop of what Franzen is saying here). Writers are observers first. The internet is the fiction writer’s worst enemy. Don’t try to impress your reader (really).

I enjoy Franzen’s quirky rules as well — “then” versus “and,” third-person versus first-, etc.

*Special thanks to 101 Books for making the post, and best of luck on your journey to finishing the list!


About davestuartjr
Dave Stuart Jr. is a full-time teacher who writes about becoming better, saner teachers at He is a follower of Jesus Christ, a husband to Crystal, and a father to Hadassah, Laura, and Marlena.

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