I Am Always Sincere, But Never Serious

Alan Watts

Alan Watts

I am always sincere, but never serious.

—Alan Watts

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.


Posted in Life Philosophy, Writing Advice.

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.

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Dianna Zaragoza

Probably the ultimate rule to end all rules when it comes to writing…”Nobody knows anything.”

It’s scary to be a world all to yourself, and no one can tell you anything for sure. But that’s life. It’s freeing in a way. Lets you do your own thing and have fun. I think so anyway. 🙂

Good post.

Darrelyn Saloom

My favorite posts are when you offer insight into Jane. And I’m so glad I read this one. Now I can prepare you for your visit down South: Prepare to relax. And know in advance, we are almost always joking.


Oh…I am a huge Alan Watts fan!  Thank you for bringing him back to the front of my cerebral cortex!


Your sincerity is a gift. How could it be otherwise? I have certainly relied on it. It’s also what makes you trustworthy and honorable. 🙂

Texanne Kelly

Oh, dear.  Now I feel guilty, because I’m almost always in joke mode.  Hmm.  Whenever you see a comment from me, don’t put a lot of effort into understanding it.  Just type “LOL” and I’ll be happy.

And as Darrelyn says, we enjoy the posts that talk about you, yourself.  It’s like having coffee with the prof, who turns out to be a fun gal. :)TX

Lori Lopez

Nerd isn’t a bad thing, I grew up a nerd, geek, four eyes, and any number of other name calling. Serious is is over rated and I love a good joke, but like you, they are often over my head and I don’t get it until it’s spelled out. 
Enjoy your advice. Thanks for your effort

Tom Bentley

Jane, your No Rules posts have been invaluable over time, and they pulled a smile from me more than once. Besides, I’m sure your bourbon habit could be a useful party aid…

Ien Nivens

I freaking love you for this and I’m not joking.

kathryn magendie

Love this. I have the other problem – people see this 5’2″ petite but curvy woman with a big smile and don’t take me seriously or they think I’m not intelligent. Once, a man in conversation with GMR said the word “genuflect” and then proceeded to turn to me and pointedly explain what the word meant. My mouth hung on its hinges. Now, I’d say something, then I just stared at him. I’ve been called Betty Boop (and eventually began to receive  Betty Boop stuff from friends and relatives so it became a joke – my license plate now reads “BOOP”… Read more »

kathryn magendie

PS – I can’t stop looking at Alan Watts’s picture – what an intriguing face!

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