How NOT to write a novel, apparently

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I’m not one for how-to books but something compelled me to get ‘How not to write a novel, 200 mistakes to avoid at all costs’ by Sandra Newman and Howard Mittelmark. I’m currently editing my first book which makes me regress into a stroppy teen (no offence to any teens out there, but I was a particularly stroppy one). Once I’ve begun the arduous task for the evening I’m fine, but that first few minutes you do not want to ask me any questions.

Anyway, when I’d almost finished the first draft I was worried. Without any real guidance from people who’ve done it before it feels a bit like charging into battle on a blind horse. With no legs. And asthma.

So I began my search through amazon for any helpful books, discouraged as usual by the many tomes claiming to have all the answers. But then I found ‘How not to write a novel.’

Perhaps it was their claim that learning what not to do was more useful than being told what to do, or the amusingly aimed gun at the kitten’s head on the front cover, I’m not sure, but I ordered it immediately and waited for the choir to sing as I opened it.

After a couple of chapters I denounced it as obnoxious and hid it in the back of the cupboard. Then, after I finished my first draft and spent days looking at this patchy, uncooperative beast I had unleashed, I reluctantly found the handbook, brushed off the fluff and was amazed.

Granted you will cringe slightly when they make a reference to something you know you’ve done, but once you recover from the initial embarrassment you’ll really appreciate the insider tips. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it till I’m taken somewhere and looked after, you have to be honest with yourself.

It’s easy to cushion things in your own mind and convince it that everyone will know what you mean, but if a small voice is telling you a thing needs changing or isn’t explained well it’s probably right. Again, though, try not to listen to the voice that tells you to maim things.

Before each helpful hint is a piece of humorous creative writing demonstrating (and exaggerating) the point they’re trying to make, for example the long preamble of description that doesn’t go anywhere known in the publishing profession as ‘The Train Journey.’

I’ve always found it hard to concentrate in libraries so I often get a coke and do research in the pub because I need noise – I know, weirdo – and I was actually laughing to myself. Loudly. People were looking; it’s lucky I don’t worry about that sort of thing. A man I’d had a bad date with recently came in and found me alone and laughing to myself. That is absolutely true.

Seriously, though, I really like this book and I think you might like it too, plus many of its principals can also be used for short stories. It’s sarcastic, it’s brutal, but it’s very funny and if we all took ourselves seriously where would we be? On a blind horse crying I suppose. Enjoy!


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