How to make a novelist melt down in 5 minutes … or less!

Rant alert, you have been warned. As previously stated on this blog, I no longer read “how to” writing books and blogs because they are generally either contradictory or repetitive. But some of you, my blogging writer friends, are sabotaging me.

I’m almost afraid to read your posts because you might have written about the three-act structure, the novel hook, author intrusion, unbelievable plot elements, or—heaven forbid—the 10 biggest mistakes writers make. You’ve probably written a brilliant post. You’ll probably get dozens of comments thanking you for such helpful advice. You won’t get one from me.

It won’t be because I disagreed with what you wrote. It’s just that your words had a strange effect on me. I read your post with a smug smile because the problems you talked about are not in my novel. Not my perfect novel. No, no, no.

Well … but …

[eyes dart wildly, shaking commences]

What if? And what about that? Is it? Could it be? Do I even have three acts? Is that too much a coincidence? And what exactly is a hook anyway?

[assumes fetal position]

My novel is a mess. I just know it. Now that I think of it, I’m sure I made all 10 mistakes. Where on earth did I get the idea I could be a writer? I was too arrogant to use spreadsheets, or flow charts, or even index cards for Pete’s sake. I can’t blame anyone but myself. I’m just too stupid to live.

[beats head on desk]

So, dear friends, go ahead. Keep writing those evil excellent posts. And if you wonder where I am, you’ll find me sniveling in the corner, sure that somehow—somehow—you’ve read my novel and aimed those posts straight at me.

Please note: This has been a Fun Friday post. Any resemblance to actual persons or events is entirely coincidental. Really.

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29 thoughts on “How to make a novelist melt down in 5 minutes … or less!

  1. I declared in a comment to one of your recent posts that I am a confident writer. I’m not a confident anything. I’m exactly like the poor stone woman in this post, Linda. If we don’t make any of the ten make ten mistakes listed in one post, someone will come up with number eleven in another one! Someone admitted that his writing was full of “had” and how he HAD to get rid of this word from his writing after an editor or someone with “authority” said so. Uh. Imaging thinking I need to go through my entire MS to judge the worthiness of every use of the word “had”. I appreciate your post and empathize.


  2. You made me laugh. So much for the confident writer. We are all masochist. 🙂
    I think most of the rules you’re reading about refer to category fiction. Isn’t your novel literary? At least, the three act structure should refer more to a plot driven novel, not necessarily a character driven novel. IMHO.
    However, I am far from a expert, just trying to make you feel better.
    Now, I’m off to take a deep yoga breath to avoid my own meltdown. *breathe*


  3. Oh no! Linda, I totally relate to the “How to” books because they caused me such stress that I ended up getting rid of them. About posts discussing this subject. I skim over them and take in some of it but not all. Why? Because we are all different. Some of us can write a draft that’s edited page by page and at the end, we have almost a perfect novel. Then, there’s the “just write” approach (mine) which meant I poured out all that was coming out of my head. Of course, it took me over a year and a half to sort out the mess but that’s just how I wrote my novel.

    The only book I would recommend is Story by Robert McKee because it really made me see sense and understand the specifics of what makes a good story. However, I am aware it may not be everyone’s cup of tea because it is written with script writing in mind but it really did help me make sense of my mess.

    I learnt a lot writing my novel and my next one, will hopefully be a bit more organised. I’m planning on doing an outline before I start, just to guide me somewhat and I’ll even have a spreadsheet lol.


    1. I think I read Story. I still read some “how to” because, obviously, I don’t know it all, or sometimes I just need a reminder.

      I’ve never really outlined because I spend a lot of time working out the story in my head before I ever start writing. Plus, I know myself, if I started making spreadsheets and all that, I might never get around to writing the story. I once spent three weeks making color-coded index cards and a schedule for doing every single household task you can imagine … and then never used it. 🙂


      1. I know what you mean about outlining. I’m going to see if I can give it a try this time, just to see if it works for me.

        Story is just brilliant for me but it could also be because I love film and have seriously considered writing a script of my novel one day so maybe that is why it appealed.


  4. I know what you mean, Linda! But you write it in a much more amusing way.

    It’s too embarrassing to tell you how many writing books I have on my shelves, how my writing sites I have bookmarked, but I think I’m finally coming to see that it’s a phased thing — read a bunch of craft books > get frustrated > turn focus back to simply writing > slowly what I’ve read infuses itself into my work.

    HAD? yikes, I’m not going to do a find/count on that word. I had (Ack) enough trouble with “just”.


    1. I have a lot of those books too, Cathryn. And I was lying when I said I don’t read and “how-to” advice any longer. Of course, I do … the next one I read might have the tip that makes my writing ASTOUNDING! 🙂

      I worked on unnecessary uses of THAT. After reading your comment, I pasted my whole novel into Wordle and guess what word showed up entirely too large … JUST. Arrrgh! And I was completely unaware I overused that word.


    2. I’m with Cathryn on this one. My goal is to read it all, digest it, and see what reemerges and how it shapes my work. I think of it as art. If I don’t learn the basic techniques my natural talent will not blossom.

      Dayner made a good point in that genre does dictate approach. I’m starting with a formula style of writing, because I need the discipline and basic understanding. Personally, I’m in awe of literary writers, like you. I’ll never reach that level of exploration and depth in my work.


      1. I still read it all, Trista, even though it makes me crazy. I’m still learning. And I think it’s great that you’ve found the approach to help your writing improve. I’m not sure if genre dictates approach in all cases. I think you have to take into account your writing “personality” too.

        By the way, I consider myself only a semi-literary writer. 😉


  5. *Teeheehee* …shh, don’t tell anyone, but I don’t outline; I don’t think what my “hook” is; I don’t do card thingee magiggles; I don’t read my novel aloud; I don’t look at my “acts;” I don’t structure a dang thang – I just write and hope for the best. I will say that there are some things I’ve learned through reading and practice and instinct that I suppose I do “instinctively” or whatever as I write, but, again – I write and hope for the best. Now – shhhh! that’s our secret!


    1. Oh, Kat, thank you for revealing this. 🙂 I’m good at spelling and grammar, and I’m sure I’ve ingrained plenty of the RULES, so I write just write the danged thing too. For the most part, it turns out pretty good. It helps that I have good critique partners to spot the things I’m not instinctive about.

      I did read my novel aloud though and caught some things I’d glossed over reading silently.


  6. Awarding you my own personal Doobcat, Linda, for single handedly crapping on the 17 ways of avoiding the 32 mistakes 10 writers make every 12 days when writing 5 paragraphs for the 9 readers who couldn’t give 2 tosses because they’re reading on the plane with reduced oxygen. Yay!


  7. Linda, I agree with everything you said. The more “how-to” articles on writing that I try to cover, the more confusing everything gets. I sometimes think if I have to remember one more thing to look for when revising(or worse, before I even write it), everything is just going to start leaking out my ears.

    Still, sometimes I post on these things more so to clarify the process in my mind than for any other reason.


    1. And I still read those things to clarify the process in my mind, Lisa. 🙂

      When I started my first full novel edit, I felt overwhelmed, like you said, with the list of things to check. Some people read through over and over, checking for one thing at a time. I’m not one of them, but maybe that’s because I edit as I write. Anyway, I just read the thing and marked everything I needed to change in one swoop. When I finished those edits, I went through again to catch what I hadn’t seen before.

      The point is, I think we need to read the how-to advice and then just discover what works best for us. As long as you get to the same place, what does it matter how you got there?


  8. Great post, and no, we’re not all taking turns pointing a gigantic telescope at your computer screen as you write. That would be most unfair. Say…was that cheerios you had for breakfast?


  9. New here, but you hit the right chord. So I plan to visit again 😉

    (Heck I will just subscribe first.) (Done!)

    Now then. I shudder just like you at the well-meaning advice. The what-ifs crawl up all over my piece and bam. That block . . . that somber feeling. Argh, not again!

    But yet, I throughly enjoy the how-to’s. It is like am sucking up the goodness of all the expert-stuff! 😉



    1. Welcome, Brown Eyed. I’ve seen your comments on another blog, so I expect that’s how you ended up here.

      It is a love/hate relationship with those rules, isn’t it? I’ve come to realize I’m a person who wants to know the rules, but I don’t necessarily want to follow them. 🙂

      Thank you for subscribing.


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