I do hope that 2015 has started off awesomely for you. And before you ask, no. I don’t make “resolutions” in the classic sense. Rather, I have “schedules.” That is, things I will be working on, and those usually involve making adjustments to my daily regimens and organizing writing and editing projects.
At any rate, this year I’m going to be doing some writing in genres that I’m not known for (including paranormal). I think it’s important to stretch as a writer, and try new things in order to get a sense of how your style and voice work across genres and what kinds of adjustments to make to write effectively no matter what you’re working on.
I’ve also got a lot of other writing things I’m up to, including romance and sci fi and I’m working on New Mexico things. So don’t worry. You’ll see things from me this year, too.
And speaking of working, I’ve been reading some “how to” and “how not to” books because I like to check in on my own techniques and continue working on my craft. I recently read this gem of irreverence, called How Not to Write a Novel, by Sandra Newman and Howard Mittelmark, both writers.
The book is indeed filled with 200 examples of bad writing in an attempt to get other authors thinking about what constitutes bad writing and how to recognize it. The examples are often raunchy, hilarious, and in some cases NOT SAFE FOR WORK. So you probably don’t want to share this with teens or ‘tweens.
From the book’s website (linked above):
Many writing books offer sound advice on how to write well. This is not one of those books. On the contrary, this is a collection of terrible, awkward, and laughably unreadable excerpts that will teach you what to avoid at all costs if you ever want your novel published.
The book walks you through things not to do when you’re setting up your plots, writing characters, dealing with perspective and voice, learning about mechanics, and world-building. The examples can be over-the-top, yes, but the authors will tell you after the bad writing what’s wrong and why it doesn’t work (readers might also find the book interesting because it’ll get you thinking about the parts of a book and why some things work and why they don’t).
From the book’s intro (which will give you a sense of the approach):
We do not presume to tell you how or what to write. We are merely telling you the things that editors are too busy rejecting your novel to tell you themselves, pointing out the mistakes they recognize instantly because they see them again and again in novels they do not buy.
We do not propose any rules; we offer observations. ‘No right on red’ is a rule. ‘Driving at high speed toward a brick wall usually ends badly’ is an observation.
Hundreds of unpublished and unpublishable novels have passed across our desks, so we have been standing here by the side of the road for a very long time. Had you been standing here with us, you would have seen the same preventable tragedies occurring over and over, and you would have made the same observations.
Do not think of us as traffic cops, or even driving instructors. Think of us instead as your onboard navigation system, available day or night a friendly voice to turn to whenever you look up, lost and afraid, and think ‘How the fuck did I end up here?’
Sometimes, dear writers, you need to see what absolutely does not work to get a sense of what to look for in your own writing. Most (if not all) of the examples in this book I have done, the vast majority when I was just starting out as a fiction writer.
Part of developing as a writer is finding your own voice and style within the rubric of solid writing craft. And that involves comparing all kinds of writing as you’re working to figure out who you are as a writer. Which is why I think having really bad examples can be helpful, along with the reasons that the writing is “bad.” You’ll also find tips in this guide that hopefully help you fix the bad so you can apply them in your own manuscripts.
So writers, if you’re looking for a funny and useful guide to hone your writing skills, give this a look (here’s the Amazon link; more purchasing links at the site). If you’re a beginning writer pounding away on your first novel, definitely give this book a spin. And if you’re a reader curious about what bad writing might look like and how writers might address it, you might enjoy this, too.
So let’s get crackin’ this new year and hit the manuscripts!