As a writer always trying to improve at my craft, I have read a lot of “How to Write” books and articles over the years. While most of them have contained little gems of advice that have undoubtedly improved my characters, plot, and all the other mechanics of a novel, the most enduring lesson from most of these books was to just write. Above all, don’t sit around waiting for inspiration to strike, or for the stars and planets to align in just the right way to allow all your creative genius to spill effortlessly onto the paper. Writing is work. It takes time, planning, and perseverance. Then, once that first draft is finally finished, it takes more time, editing, and re-writing to make that draft vaguely coherent and readable. Repeat this process until you have a manuscript which may be worthy of publication.
But to return to the topic of this post, one of the best, and certainly entertaining, books I have read on writing is Mittelmark & Newman’s “How Not to Write a Novel” (HarperCollins eBooks, 2008). Rather than providing a set of rules, or advising on how or what to write, “How Not to Write a Novel” focuses on the common errors that editors see repeatedly in manuscripts which are rejected for publication. Every cliched plot device, cardboard character and misuse of language is featured, complete with humorous examples.
From unreadable openings to pacing problems and ridiculous endings, an impressive collection of stereotypes, point-view-problems and undefined settings, this book explains all of the missteps you need to make to ensure your novel remains unpublished. In the process, I recognised several mistakes that I make myself, which I would have never realised from the traditional “How to Write” books. Entertaining, engaging and full of practical advice, “How Not to Write a Novel” is a valuable resource for writers. Some small examples –
In considering style:
“If you’re serious about staying unpublished – for the love of God misuse long vocabulary words.”
“There are many tried and true ways of making characters uninteresting, unsympathetic, and lifeless. We cannot claim to be comprehensive. But any of the following approaches should be enough to terminate any interest in ever man, woman, and child in your novel.”
In advising on the best ways to ensure that your novel remains unpublished, “How Not to Write Your Novel” provides one of the better guides to improving your writing.