I am always sincere, but never serious.
When I started my first professional blog, I struggled to give it a name. While I thought I could offer helpful information, the truth about writing advice is that it’s only helpful if you’re the kind of writer who benefits from it. Not all writers do (or can). Plus there are always exceptions to each piece of advice.
That’s why I ended up calling the blog There Are No Rules. (I’ve made an archive of the best posts—click here.)
My hope was that even if people read a lot of my prescriptive advice, the name of the blog itself would offer a meta-commentary—or a wink and a nod—that I’m playing the advice game, and you’re allowing me to play the game by listening and granting me some kind of authority.
A personal anecdote: I grew up in a family that didn’t crack many jokes. In fact, I was always afraid of people making jokes around me, because I was the sort of person who easily served as the target. (I was the biggest nerd in school.) I hesitate to say I grew up humorless, but it took a while before I knew how to relax. This dynamic still comes into play when I’m among strangers. Since my default is sincerity, especially in unfamiliar situations, I also take everything said as sincere, and sometimes I realize a few seconds too late that what I’m hearing is a joke. There are times when people even have to explicitly state—upon seeing the reaction on my face—”I’m joking.”
I’m afraid this can make me very dull at parties. I’m sincere to a fault.
However, I am not serious, and the Alan Watts quote above is one of my very favorites. Every once in a while I like to remind people: Know that I’m sincere, but never serious. Forge your own path; write your own rules.
Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) has 20 years of experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in digital media strategy for authors and publishers. She is the publisher of The Hot Sheet, the essential newsletter on the publishing industry for authors, and was named Publishing Commentator of the Year by Digital Book World in 2019.
In addition to being a columnist for Publishers Weekly, Jane is a professor with The Great Courses, which released her 24-lecture series, How to Publish Your Book. Her book for creative writers, The Business of Being a Writer (University of Chicago Press), received a starred review from Library Journal.
Jane speaks regularly at conferences and industry events such as BookExpo America, Digital Book World, and the AWP Conference, and has served on panels with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Creative Work Fund. Find out more.