Back in April 2016, I started writing reviews of the books I read. This prompted me to look at adding a bit more variety to my reading habits. Now, that doesn’t mean I was suddenly going to start perusing the sort of books I wouldn’t normally touch with a barge pole, just one or two I might previously have only have glanced at and moved on.
Not wishing to lumber myself with a pile of unreadable tat to wade through, whenever anyone asked me to consider a review, I’d always have a peek at the book in question before agreeing to anything. Sadly, a lot of the time, I couldn’t even get past the first page for the mass of bad grammar, poor spelling, illogical sentence structure and general profusion of utter drivel. Nevertheless, I did start taking on literary tomes that were new to me (in style, genre etc), and while I knew that at least some of those would definitely not leave me gasping in amazement, I was okay with that, as even mediocre books can teach us something. (They can, can’t they?)
In casting my literary net further afield (and this particularly applies to the eBook market), I began to wonder why it is that some folk write so badly. Is it laziness, stupidity or what? I don’t know. But thinking about it prompted a few thoughts on how these people might justify churning out such dross.
So here’s my 12 rules on how not to write a novel, inspired by some of those (sorry) really shit writers:
1. Always assume your particular writing style is totally unique and utterly compelling.
2. Your writing will come over as dead clever if you stuff the dialogue with clichés, making your characters sound totally unique and utterly compelling.
3. Don’t worry if you get writer’s block, it’s a sign you’re breaking new ground.
4. Re-writing and all that editing stuff – that’s just for people who aren’t very good.
5. Use loads of adverbs, that way readers who don’t have good imaginations will be able to visualise what’s happening.
6. Always write what you think will sell well.
7. Don’t worry too much about spelling, grammar and punctuation – if you’ve got a totally unique and utterly compelling writing style, readers will overlook a few errors.
8. Don’t read anything by the writers you really like, cos that’ll just put you off.
9. Write in a genre you’re not familiar with. In fact, the less you know, the better.
10. Make your central character just like you.
11. If you’re new to novel writing, you’ll probably start with creating a mythical/fantasy/magical world of some sort. Be different – come up with original character names such as RthMiiert-Bogg, Argzipztrg, and FTarttMinger-Plural. It doesn’t matter if readers can’t pronounce them, so long as they look interesting.
12. Finally, don’t let anyone read your epic tome – they’ll only drag you down with their criticism. Publish and be damned, as some famous author once said.
I’ve always said you can’t teach anyone to be a good writer – that’s something they have to work out for themselves, but it’s pretty certain that you only get to be good by constantly striving to be the best, by being critical, by cutting the dross, by working at being a writer.
Update August 2022
NB Since I first wrote this post, I’ve reviewed more than 500 books. An additional 31 were too crap to make the grade and I happily allowed them to fall by the wayside. Eagle-eyed readers may have noticed that these days my reviewed books list consists of mainly four- and five-star reviews. This is because I stopped reading dross and became more conscientious about the books I agreed to take on. Even so, there are still a few that slip through the net by pretending to be well-written when they’re not, so if you’re one of those authors who concentrate on making the first three pages of your novel totally brilliant while leaving the rest to chance in the assumption that readers will continue reading in the hope the dross will improve, just stop, okay? Stop and write better.