Top Ten Tips on how not to write a novel, find an agent, get it published and become rich and famous


I’ve read a string of comments in the last week about how easy it would be to write a novel if only one lived in Rome.  This sort of thing:

You want to write. Really you do. You long to. In fact, if you could run away now to Rome and write full-time with the Italian sunlight streaming through your open balcony doors you’d be in heaven.

Indeed.  Well here I am.  Rome.  Writing.  Sunlight.  Blah blah blah.  But somehow it’s not doing it for me.  Procrastination and self-loathing are the order of day.  This does, however, mean I have become an expert on how not to write a novel.  Here are my top ten tips for literary failure:

1)            Write 30,000 words in one huge, manic flurry for NaNoWriMo (2011), lose interest and don’t write anything else for six months.

2)           When you finally return to the novel, re-read all 30,000 words and deem every one of them to be utter rubbish.  Become extremely disheartened and refuse to open the document entitled ‘novel’ for another three months.

3)           Resume writing novel again.  Think some of it is not too bad.  Start editing what you’ve already written.  Get very confused as, for some reason, you’re writing a novel involving time-travel and ancient Eygpt, neither of which you know anything about.  Waste spend a lot of time doing valuable ‘research’ on the net.

4)           Remember how important it is to take a break from your work each day so you don’t burn out.   Cleaning the fridge, trying out new brownie recipes or searching on Pinterest for pictures of vintage campervans will surely refresh your inspiration.

5)           Decide novel needs more conflict.  Spend a long amount of time thinking about conflict.  Spend a small amount of time writing about conflict.

6)           Decide characters need more work.  Fill several hours completing character questionnaires.  It is vitally important that you know exactly how Bea will react when the plane she’s piloting is plummeting towards a mountain in the Andes as a result of engine failure, thus killing all the passengers and the inhabitants of the village below.  Even though she’s only 12.

7)           Check your word count every five minutes, just in case it has miraculously doubled since you last looked.  Cut and paste research from internet and include this in your word count.

8)           Realise that, because you’re living in Rome and it’s incredibly hot at the moment, a short siesta every afternoon is an excellent idea so that when you awake you will be fresh and ready to write.

9)           Wake from siesta just in time to collect children from school.

10)         Check email, Facebook, text messages, Twitter, and all other forms of social media that you either don’t understand how to use or haven’t even heard of, at least once every ten minutes.

Oh, I forgot one more:

11)          Start a blog.

26 thoughts on “Top Ten Tips on how not to write a novel, find an agent, get it published and become rich and famous”

  1. But….you are so much further along than many! But yes, there are so many inspiring thoughts that living in Rome evoke, but getting down to writing must be so hard…
    But the way, am reading Eat Pray, love and the part written in Rome has so much more resonance knowing you’re there!


    1. I watched the film recently just to see what bits of Rome I recognised! I was amazed (ok, DID NOT BELIEVE) how fluent in Italian Julia Roberts seemed to be after just six weeks. After 10 months, I still struggle to remember what the Italian for celery is (it’s sedano in case you ever need to buy any…)


      1. My inability to learn Italian drives Mrs Sensible mad.. For example; to me sedano sounds like someone saying, let’s sit or all of you sit or even please can I sit down,,, please.


  2. Spot on. I can add one to this too; get some tentative interest from an agent, send them your work (as they requested) and they find yourself unable to move on with it until you’ve heard from them. I know this could be classified as a luxury problem but it’s put the brakes on big time!


  3. Perfect summary of my life. I’m at the point where I have edited down from 70 000 words to somewhere much less than that because I hate it all. And can’t think of any ending. My fridge has yet to be cleaned though


  4. You forgot number 12: wonder how on earht you can get your foot in an editors door, convince youself that they will all end up stumbling across your blog one day, and write another blog post just in case they do so today. PSI have no idea why so many of your posts haven’t showed up in my feed – MM scratches head.


  5. Brilliant! I have completed pretty much all the steps – except I now live in Moscow so I can also always blame the weather for killing any desire to write (or live) – while attempting 2 original novels. After a year and a half of trying, I started a blog!


      1. Um, does it count if it’s in my head? 🙂 My other excuse is that I have a pretty busy day job which is quite a bit of writing, so at least I AM writing professionally, right?


  6. I have just found this very post. Well, you got me. Step by step, even the NaNoWriMo night fury. I guess many in the blogosphere are working on a novel. Since a very long time. But you know what? Writing is just practice, whatever you are writing of. I prefer sometimes to “waste” an hour on a blogpost than sit in front of my Word document with a blank stare and start playing with the magnetic words of my “Writer’s remedy”. (Results can be seen on my homepage picture). Good luck!


    1. Totally agree, any writing is still writing. At least a blogpost is much quicker to write than a novel so you can be more easily rewarded with a sense of achievement! Love the magnets, do they help???


      1. Well, they helped me making the transition to the blog for sure…After I quit NaNoWriMo at 25k words because both my kids got pneumonia I was very emotional about the whole “writing while raising children and running a home” thing and kept awakening at night and playing with the magnets. After a week I decided to hang them on my office’s wall, take a picture and start the blog:-)


        1. I’ll have to give the magnets a go. Writing with a family can be very difficult, it’s hard to fit it all in. My kids are excellent at coming up with ideas so I always turn to them when I get stuck!


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