How to Not
Write Your Novel.
[Originally published March 13, 2014.]
You’ve been planning to write that novel forever and yet you still haven’t done it. But you are determined, and if you’re not careful you might actually write the thing. Follow these ten proven steps to make sure that this year, like all those before it, is the year you do not write your novel.
1. Do not write every day.
If you don’t write every day, it is much easier to not produce a novel. Neither the subject nor the quality of what you don’t write matters; what is important is that you don’t write it. With time and practice, you may get to that rarefied state where you do not write on any day.
2. Don’t write about what you know.
Write about what you know, they say. But what do they know? And what do you know? Not a whole hell of a lot, probably, so you obviously shouldn’t write about it.
3. Don’t write about what you don’t know either.
Nothing will keep you from writing like research. If your main character is a physics professor, do not start writing until you understand quantum physics and can condense the salient points on a 3 × 5 index card. This will probably require going back to school and studying until you have a PhD. Afterwards, pursue a tenure-track position and publish a few peer-reviewed papers in theoretical physics, so you can really understand your character before you write your novel.
4. If you must write, write anything but a novel.
Write short stories that could become scenes in the novel you aren’t writing and submit them to prestigious publications. Wait until you hear back from the editors before resuming work. This can easily take care of half the year or more. In most cases you will get a form-letter rejection, which you should take personally, with commensurate discouragement and/or anger. Remember that not taking rejection to heart is the kind of attitude that leads to completed novels.
5. Find inspiration and crush yourself with it.
After all that rejection, you will need inspiration. There are all kinds of books out there designed to help and encourage you to write your novel. Buy and read them all. Line them all up on a shelf in alphabetical order. Calculate how much you spent on them. Put them all in a stack and try to lift them. Consider how you are no closer to writing a novel than you were when you bought that first how-to-write-your-novel volume. Tell yourself that you are pathetic and that you could have written a novel already if you hadn’t wasted your time on all these how-to books. Then, pick up your favorite one and read it again. Hell, read them all again! Allow yourself to be crushed under the weight of all that inspiration.
6. See the Muse for what she is: a con artist.
Speaking of inspiration, be on your guard against a visit from the Muse. She rarely shows up, but when she does, she fills your head with big ideas, and tricks you into letting her magic flow through you onto the page, and before you know it, the collective unconscious has made you its bitch. Once under the Muse’s spell, you can easily dash off an entire novel, so make sure you are not available when she calls. Obsessive involvement in social media is a great way to make sure you won’t be able to hear her quiet, seductive voice.
7. Tell everyone you are writing a novel.
Tell everyone you know that you are writing a novel. Keep doing this until someone laughs in your face. You won’t have to wait long.
8. Get in Your Own Way.
You are your own best ally when it comes to not writing your novel, so be sure to get in your own way as much as possible. Monitor your self-talk. If you are having positive thoughts, replace them with negative ones. Put them on Post-it Notes and stick them to your bathroom mirror where you will see them each morning. “Who are you kidding?” or, “No one cares what you have to say,” are good examples. If you are the kind of sensitive and artistic person that is capable of writing a novel, then you probably already have all kinds of negative thoughts about yourself. If you naturally have thoughts like “It’s too late,” or, “I’m too old,” then you are on the right track. And remember—it probably is too late and you are clearly too old.
9. Remember that November
is National Novel Writing Month.
But not for you! Do anything else. Join the Movember movement and focus all your energy on growing a mustache, even if you’re a woman. Remember that while it takes only a month to write a novel or grow a shitty mustache, not writing a novel takes the whole year.
10. Remember that December is
No One Has Ever Written a Novel
in December Month.
Oy, the holidays! Am I right? Even so, be careful not to work on your novel in December. Remember that most tightrope walkers fall within a few steps of safety, so go watch internet videos of tightrope walkers falling. Spend hours doing this. Read all the comments on the videos and develop a deep disdain for humankind. Decide that a tightrope walker would be a great main character for a novel, much better than a physics professor. Begin research on tightrope walking and enroll in acrobat school.
See how easy it is? Follow these steps and, like countless others, you can make this the year you do not write your novel. At the end of the year, remember to reward yourself for reaching your goal. Go to your local independent bookstore and purchase the latest how-to-write-your-novel book. That will certainly be the one that has all the answers!
SUGGESTED READSAnother Example of the Illuminating Correspondence Between John Hodgman, Professional Literary Agent, and His Cousin, One ‘Josh,’ Who Aims to Be a Man of Letters
by John Hodgman (1/31/2000)
Five Under Five: Five Fiction Awards for Writers Under Five
by Todd Pruzan (12/15/1998)
I Write Short Books About the Popular Bands of the Day. Here Is My Story. (Episode 1.)
by Catherine Zymet (5/29/2000)
RECENTLYI Have Signed the Guestbook of Your Charming Cottage By the Sea
by Dan Kennedy (8/26/2016)
List: Back-to-School Shopping List for Your Teenager Who’s Just Going Through a Phase
by Madison Seely (8/26/2016)
Doing Science: The Oxygen Crisis, or, Sometimes These Things Name Themselves
by Emily Helliwell (8/26/2016)
POPULARI Would Rather Do Anything Else Than Write the Syllabus for Your Class
by Robin Lee Mozer (8/25/2016)
Do You Have a Child or Have You Just Been Followed Home By a Hyena?
by Kira Jane Buxton (8/23/2016)
List: Facebook Posts by People You Went to High School With Scavenger Hunt—Election Edition
by Derrick Fenner (8/23/2016)