There is a formula (of sorts) to novel-writing, but that formula should always be framed in terms of principles, and not concretes.
By concretes, I’m referring to these interminable lists of specifics we so often see, which when it comes to story-writing tell us what to do and what not to do but never give us the principle behind the concretes.
Here are some actual examples of story-writing do’s-and-do-not’s that I’ve recently read, all of which were taken from real-life editors and writers:
“Do no begin your story with weather.”
“Do not use ellipses.”
“Do not use the word commence.“
“Do not use the word basically.“
“Do not use the word very.“
“Never end a chapter with your character falling asleep.”
“Never begin your chapter with your character waking up.”
“Do not use adverbs in your dialogue tags.”
“Cut virtually all your adverbs.”
“Never use of if it can be cut.”
“Never use that if it can be cut.”
“Never say in order to but only to.“
“Never use the word would, except to project the future.”
“Do not use italics for emphasis.”
“In your dialogue tags, never say said John but always keep it John said.”
“Never introduce dialogue with John said but always put the tag after the dialogue.”
And so on, ad-infinitum.
This method of teaching (if it can even be called that) ignores the method by which the human mind works — which is to say, principles — and chooses instead to overload the brain with endless commands that come without any real explication of fundamentals. And yet it is only by grasping the fundamentals behind any given thing that people can grasp the full nature of what they’re doing.
If you grasp the nature of what you’re doing, you’ll never run out of material.
If, on the other hand, you never discover the principles behind the specific rules you’re commanded to obey, you’ll never feel secure in your craft or sullen art, and I indeed know successful writers who live in fear that they’ll never be able to duplicate their first and even second success. The fear comes because they’ve not learned the nature of literature, though they have polished their writing, in large part by memorizing a great many do’s and do not’s.
I assure you that every single rule you’ll ever read has been successfully broken by writers whose books endure and will continue to endure. The people who memorize and compile these laundry lists, however, do not, for the most part, write durable literature.