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Secrets of the Novel, Revealed

Some of the more common search queries that bring people to this site, with relevant information appended.

how to write a novel

Start by reading as many good novels as you can. Meet us back here for further instruction.

how not to write a novel

That’s a gimme. Buy the book.

how not to write a novel uk

The UK edition of How Not To Write A Novel will be published by Penguin in January of 2009.

do you need to go to college to write a

do you need a degree to be a novelist

No, you don’t, but college can give you the time to read widely and deeply, people with whom you can discuss what you’re reading (people who know more than you do about what you’ve read are particularly helpful), and some guidance as to what the good stuff is, all of which is invaluable preparation for a writer. You can go to college and experience none of these things, and you can find all of them without going to college. If you want to write novels, though, you should do whatever you can to arrange those circumstances.

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Jonathan Livingston Who?

Here’s a name that should strike fear into the heart of every novelist.

James Gould Cozzens.

Not trembling? That’s because you’ve never heard of him, which is why you should be. In 1948, Cozzens won the Pulitzer Prize for Guard of Honor, and he had the best-selling novel of 1957, By Love Possessed. That’s not all that long ago. Sic transit gloria mundi.

Spend some time with this list of the best-selling books of the twentieth century and be awed and appalled by how many of these writers you’ve never heard of.

You know, it’s no secret that writing a novel is hard work, even when you use the very latest tools, like the Cone of Likelihood. Still, many, many people do it, which means competition for you, the aspiring novelist. If your goal is the immortality that comes from writing a novel which will be read down through the ages, you might want to consider other routes to the same destination.

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Advance praise for How Not to Write a Novel we didn’t make up

“I laughed till I nearly cried. How many hours of editors’ time might have been saved had this book existed earlier? But, more important, will it put us out of a job?”

–Rebecca Carter, Senior Editor, Random House UK

 

“Writing a novel can be excruciating. Reading How Not To Write A Novel won’t make it any less painful, but at least you’ll be laughing–and you’ll end up with a better novel.”

–Tracy Bernstein, Executive Editor, New American Library

 

“A hilarious tour of the many faux pas aspiring — and, dare I say, some published — novelists commit. I laughed so hard I cried.”

–Sally MacKenzie, USA Today best-selling author

 

“I’ve been a professional editor for the past twenty years and I don’t recall seeing a more useful book for novelists in all that time. It’s also one of the funniest books I’ve read.”

–Gordon Van Gelder, Editor, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction

The unlikely result of googling turkey shiner

We would be remiss were we not to bring to your attention one of the inspirations for How Not To Write A Novel, a document we first encountered under the title “Bruce Sterling’s Workshop Lexicon.” Compiled by a few generations of sf writers and teachers through many years of workshops, it’s sharp, funny, insightful, and worth reading by anybody writing fiction of any kind. Think of it as a beef bouillon cube of How Not To Write A Novel, with Special SF Flavor.