10 Reasons Someone Else’s Novel Shouldn’t Have Been Published

Admit it. You’ve stared, slack-jawed at an open book in Barnes & Noble, stunned by the horribleness of the writing. You’ve whispered your frustration to the universe, a few choice obscenities that brought an audible “harrumph” from a blue-haired woman browsing the nearby Christian Inspiration section.

How is it possible this hack of a writer got a publishing deal and your (almost brilliant) novel can’t even get a literary agent’s attention?

The universe isn’t fair. You accept that. But really? I mean really? This book is utter crap. Except you don’t say “crap.” You say “shit.” And you almost never say “shit.”

Because you just can’t let it go, you buy the offending book and make it your goal to enumerate all of its sins.

Three chapters in, you’ve already found five things that make you throw up a little:

1. The writing is stilted. It’s a hodgepodge of meandering, redundant sentences and pointless sentence fragments.

2. Nothing is happening. I mean nothing. There’s no discernible plot, no tension, no conflict. I have no reason to keep reading.

3. The characters are one-dimensional. Therefore, I don’t care what happens to them. If anything were happening. And nothing is. I think I already mentioned that.

4. The dialogue sounds like it was written by a third-grader. “Mr. Johnson, the curtains were not in the curtain box that was left on my porch which is where they should have been. That is why I am crying about the missing curtains from the box.”

5. “I don’t consider the ‘no adverbs’ advice a hard and fast rule, but after reading three chapters of this novel, I may have to reconsider,” I say, dumbfoundedly.

You keep reading anyway. It’s a painful experience. When you finally get to the last page (74 blurted obscenities and 3 packages of Tums later), you’ve discovered five more reasons this book should never have been published:

6. There are no character arcs. It’s all straight lines. No one learns anything. No one grows. No one changes. No one cares. Especially me.

7. The ending sucks. True, there wasn’t much plot, but just when it was showing signs of potentially being interesting, everything was resolved. In five pages. That’s not an ending, that’s laziness. Or a word count restriction.

8. The whole thing is written in a bland, passive voice. It’s like soggy melba toast. I hate soggy melba toast.

9. There is not one original idea in this book.

10. It’s littered with typos. Okay, so maybe this isn’t the writer’s fault, but I sure wouldn’t let my book out in public looking like this. If necessary, I’d hire my own proofreader to make sure it’s prefect. I mean perfect.

Then, perhaps to compensate for the lack of conflict in the narrative, you take the offending novel, cover it liberally with peanut butter, and offer it to the neighbor’s drooling pit bull.

After moment to savor the book’s destruction, you return to your desk, where you sit with perfect posture in front of your computer. You open the file marked “latest draft” and begin to review your masterpiece – the one that’s been rejected exactly 15 times by literary agents who obviously don’t know what great writing is.

Three chapters in you start to squirm. You clear your throat. You look out the window at the neighbor’s yard. It’s littered with torn pages.

You look back at your novel. It’s littered with bad prose. Your plot wanders. Your characters blend into each other. It’s entirely possible the dialogue falls flat in a few places. Is the ending satisfying enough?

Shit.

Writing a novel is hard work.

Do the Best You Can With What You Have

There’s little need for a post here. If you’re pressed for time, just read the title again, let it inspire some brilliant application for your writing life, then jet off to Nova Scotia to see a total eclipse of the sun. (Yes, I’m talking to¬†you.)

Of course, if you want to spend a few more minutes in this space (and who wouldn’t; don’t you love how the gray header matches the cloud of uncertainty that’s giving your muse black lung?), feel free. It’s your dime.

Here’s the thing (and by “thing” I mean premise for this post): writers have a tendency to set unrealistic expectations. We call these expectations “dreams” or “goals” to make them sound beautiful or practical. But they’re expectations nonetheless.

“I’m going to write 10,000 words today!”

“I’m going to get an agent by Christmas. This Christmas!”

“I’m going to quit my day job and write full time and be happy and successful and tip generously even when the service is bad!”

“I’m going to read every book ever written about how to write well before I even put a single word of my own novel on the page because then when I do it will be lovely and perfect and certain to capture the hearts and minds of every human being on the planet including people who’ve never read a single novel!”

Then, often due to circumstances beyond our control, the dreams become nightmares. The goals grow mold (like the stuff hiding in your basement walls that’s going to kill you someday).

Still, we persist.

Maybe you do what I do – try to give the pain of underperformance purpose by re-categorizing it as a “life lesson.” [Here’s how to do this: cup your ears to the yawning abyss and listen for some murmured echo of wisdom about how pain – even the pain of unmet dreams or goals – is really a gift because it makes us better writers. Then try not to throw up.]

There’s certainly some truth in that murmur – Real Life Pain does make us better writers of Imagined Pain. (See this post.) But unless your plan is to write a novel about feeling totally inadequate at the one thing you long to excel at, this probably isn’t the sort of pain you should be listening to.

We don’t mean to do this to ourselves. (Except for you masochists out there.) We start off with good intentions. But somewhere along the way, we become concerned that we’re not as far along as we thought we should be so we reach farther than we ought for the One Ring (“we wants it….”) only to fall off the horse. Again.

Discouragement sets in. And frankly? Discouragement sucks the fun out of writing.

What if, instead, you gave yourself a little slack? Sure, set goals. Follow dreams. Do everything you can to reach those places. But always, always with the quiet understanding that your reach only extends so far in any given moment.

Sounds easy, doesn’t it.

Then why do you keep beating yourself up for not being Stephenie Meyer?

Pursue everything with diligence and excellence. Maybe you’ll meet your writing goal. Maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll get an agent this month. Maybe you won’t. Maybe your book will get published someday. Maybe it won’t.

Just do the best you can with what you have.

And that will be enough.

21 Excuses for Why Your Novel Isn’t Finished Yet

Yes, it’s a list-based post. If you prefer something more esoteric, read this post instead.

1. My protagonist has locked himself in his room and won’t come out until I agree to give him a love interest who isn’t sleeping with his best friend.

2. This computer can’t read WordPerfect files. Okay, so it’s been a while since I last worked on my novel. Don’t judge.

3. My muse left me to go work for James Patterson.

4. It is finished, but I’m waiting until novels about glittery vampires are “in” again before submitting it to agents.

5. Is true art ever really finished?

6. The letter “e” doesn’t work on my laptop. Try typing “The End” without it.

7. I’m still trying to make the first paragraph perfect. You know, for my query.

8. I can’t remember the filename.

9. Have you seen this newfangled thing called The Internet?

10. I’ve used up all the words in my thesaurus.

11. I don’t have a deadline.

12. I do have a deadline and it’s yesterday.

13. I’ve fallen in love with the delete key.

14. I have a needy spouse/child/pet/neurosis.

15. Carpal tunnel syndrome. Or leprosy. One of those.

16. Not enough monkeys.

17. Not enough Xanax.

18. Someone else wrote it already so I have to start over. Damn you Fyodor Mikhaylovich Dostoyevsky!

19. My mom says I have to clean up my room first.

20. I died years ago and the executors of my estate haven’t decided yet which of my kin will pretend to be me for the next few decades.

21. My novel? Oh, it’s all right here in my head. I just haven’t written it down yet. But it’s gonna be brilliant!

Feel free to use any of these, royalty-free. Or add your own in the comments.

Then get back to writing.