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How NOT To Write A Novel

Another Christmas has come and gone. And whilst you were busy sifting through the mountain of discarded wrapping paper, leftover chocolates and presents that had little or no thought behind them (another pair of socks, you shouldn’t have!), you might have found something really special.

Workplace Secret Santas are pretty commonplace. But as the team I’m a part of was only put together four months ago, I was curious as to what the gifts would be like. Add to the mix the fact that we’ve been so busy that there’s barely been time for getting to know one another, I was expecting people to go for either a “safe”gift, i.e. a bottle of wine, or a joke gift of some sort. I was pleasantly surprised.

For what I found when I unwrapped my gift was a copy of How NOT To Write a Novel by Sandra Newman & Howard Mittelmark. I’d never heard of it before, but I was immediately intrigued, not to mention grateful. My Secret Santa knew me and having now finished it, I can honestly say that it is one of the best books I have ever read. If you’re a wannabe published novelist like myself, I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Newman and Mittlemark will have you smiling from the very first page. They discuss the reasons why in a veritable ocean of books which tell you how to write, they went against the tide and focused on how not to write instead. They write:

‘All the many writing books strive to offer distinct, sometimes radically different approaches to writing a novel. But if you locked all their authors in a room and slowly started filling it with water, and the only way they could escape was to reach some consensus on writing, their only hope for survival would be to agree on the things you shouldn’t do.’

What follows from that are two-hundred mistakes which you should ‘avoid at all cost if you ever want to be published.’

From beginnings and setups through to character development, perspective and dialogue, the book encompasses the entirety of your unpublished novel. You too can learn to create writing so unpublishable that ‘You could be a full-blooded Norseman — Eric the Red himself — and the editors of the Viking Press would still rather set off for Valhalla in a flaming longship than publish you.’

In ‘Mr. Sandman, on Second Thought, Bring Me A Gun’, you’ll learn why readers just don’t care about your character’s dreams. In ‘What Color Am I?’, discover why your character must be in front of a mirror to know what she looks like. Ditch historical accuracy like a professional with ‘Zeno’s iPod: Anachronism in Historical Fiction’, and master the art of describing your settings as though they were straight from the IKEA catalogue in ‘The List Of Ingredients.’

These are just a few of the titles the author’s make use of to demonstrate their points. To give anymore would lessen your enjoyment of reading the book. Some of the language used in the book might not be for everyone. Some of the examples the author’s use to highlight these mistakes are almost cariacturised, and you’ll roll your eyes on more than one occasion.

But having read it, I feel like a better writer. What more could you ask for, for £7.99?

To my friend Libby, my not-so-Secret Santa, who gave me this book, thank you.

Jon Peters is a 28 year old writer from the UK, who recently discovered the absolute heaven that is a Five Guys Bacon Cheeseburger. If you made it this far down the page, thanks for reading. I hope you enjoyed. If you’d like to read more of my work, you can get to my profile super quickly by clicking here.

Trying to make the world a better place, one word at a time.

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