Praise for Howard Mittelmark and Sandra Newman

“A firm grasp of personal boundaries.”

“Just Jewish enough.”

“Howard was one of the best boyfriends I had in the early nineties.”

“The most punctual writing team in New York.”

“Ooh la la!”

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?”

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–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.

Advance praise for How Not to Write a Novel

–The New York Times

“…for some reason[able]…[pass]ages…in the book.”
–Washington Post Book World

“one of the most [amaz]ing books of the year.”

–Philadelphia Inquirer

“Among the…books I have reviewed in 20 years.”
–Austin-American Statesman

How To Not Write A Novel

Many people have mistakenly come here to How Not To Write A Novel when searching for advice on how to not write a novel.

While not writing novels is not our field of expertise, we’ve been around long enough to know that despite the claims of the many expensive in-patient programs available, if you’re truly serious about not writing a novel, the best thing you can do is locate a local twelve-step group. Call your local library; most groups meet in library basements. Friends of ours have managed to not write novels for years at a time with no more than these weekly meetings for support, while still leading outwardly normal lives.

If you’ve tried that route before and find you are still writing a novel, this time around try to avoid spending time with people who are writing novels during your first year. Remember, if it’s gotten to this point, it’s time to admit you have a real problem and make some serious changes.

No, it’s not fair that other people can write novels safely, while you cannot. But if you could write a few pages in the evening after work and still show up at the office the next morning; if you could concentrate on your job without sneaking in a little work on your novel when you think nobody will notice, you wouldn’t be here. You have a disease, and once you start writing a novel, you will be compelled to keep on writing until you are once again completely out of control.

If there are no meetings in your area to help you not write novels, consider attending one of the meetings for those trying to not write screenplays. It might seem strange at first, and the people who attend these meetings might look like a different crowd, a slicker, more superficial crowd, but you’ll find that underneath it all, they need your help just as much as you need theirs.

Let Gandhi choose your topping

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They snatch Gandhi out of the past just before he’s assassinated. They bring him to a Baskin Robbins ice cream franchise in a strip mall, and chain him to one of the tables by the counter. He sits there in his loincloth with a chain around his ankle, under a sign on the wall that says, “Let Gandhi Choose Your Topping!”

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Gandhi, resigned to his fate, selects toppings for the ice cream of suburban children. What he hates most is when the high school kids get stoned and make him choose toppings as a goof. No matter what topping he chooses, they laugh.

How To Not Write A Novel, Part II: The NEA Fallowship Program

Since becoming writers in the field of writing-manual writing, we have grown increasingly aware of a situation that threatens the financial and spiritual well-being of writers everywhere.

Where there were once hundreds of novels written for every one that was published, the ease of self-publishing and the lure of celebrity has increased that number to thousands, if not tens of thousands. Add to this the innumerable MFA programs springing up on campuses all over the country like mushrooms springing up on campuses all over the country, from each of which springs each spring like a river a freshet of fresh young novelists, each of them novel, yet the same, and each of them driven, wound tightly like a spring inside a watch that is driven by a spring, ready to tick off the pages of their novels like the seconds on that watch, the chapters like the minutes, and whole new novels like The Hours, and we face a state of affairs that we as writers can no longer ignore: there are simply too many novels.
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