A novel can only be as perfect as the person (or people) who write it, and no matter how incredible a work of fiction can seem, there are mistakes, bad choices, and strings left untied. Fortunately it’s possible to learn from past mistakes to do better in the future, so I thought I’d jot down some of my own all time worst novelling calls:
- I tried to please everyone. There was one time when one of my books was especially popular among friends and family, and everyone had a tip to throw in. I wanted to make it better in every way, and so I took everyone’s word seriously. That was a bad mistake. I killed the novel. Slaughtered it beyond recognition. Juggled so many different ideas and directions that my own voice became almost imperceptible. I just couldn’t say no!
- I went for all or nothing. That’s always a bad gamble when it comes to writing and editing. Your novel will never be perfect, so if you aim for all or nothing, you’ll get nothing every time. Know when you’re satisfied with your book, when it’s a good read and does everything that it set out to do. You’ll spare yourself a lot of time this way.
- I kept it to myself. I have a lot of roughly drafted poems, stories and novels that no one else has ever seen. With many of these pieces, I’m not sure if they’re quite ready, but I wait perhaps a little too long before taking action to make them public. This isn’t to say you should throw your writing into everyone’s face all the time–but don’t be afraid to submit your works to the proper venues when ready.
- I made my point. Some of my stories have hidden messages in them. That’s fine, but it doesn’t work when those messages become to obvious or outspoken. Preaching in a novel is never (to my knowledge) acceptable, especially when a gentle hint is all that is needed. Don’t make it explicit and don’t over-imply it. That undermines the reader.
- I took myself too seriously. A novel is an entertainment gig, and I would do well to remember that. People probably won’t read your book because their literature teacher told them to. They’ll read it because it looked interesting, exciting, and because it piqued their curiosity. No matter how serious the nature of the novel may be, don’t burden yourself with it. Have fun. Mess around. If it’s boring for you, it’s going to be boring for anyone else who reads it.
- I forced the story to become what I wanted it to become. I remember once hearing about how clay pots, bowls and vases are made. Often the potter doesn’t even know what he or she is making until it’s done. The clay seems to mold itself. Writing should be the same way. If your novel really wants to go in a direction that you hadn’t planned, don’t tear it back. Follow that trail and see what it can add. Of course, it helps to keep track of the central issue in your plot… but don’t be afraid to take another path to get there.
Hopefully someone else can benefit from my mistakes and we can all move forward to produce better novels in the future. Please share your tales of writing woe in the comments section below; I’d love to hear about it!