Bad Habits for a Novelist

Woman reading

Novel-writing is a long and arduous process that requires as much discipline and focus as creativity. Poets can have as many bad habits as they like, for their lines are few and short, but us novelists need to keep our bad habits in check, for our lines are numerous. And to do that, we must first name them.

1. Reading before writing. The voice of the author whose book you’re reading influences you too much, especially when you’re inexperienced and your voice is not clear and confident.

2. Reading too much fiction while in the process of writing your novel. When your mind is focused on another story, accidents of creation stop occurring and you get fewer flashes of inspiration. Reading non-fiction has the opposite effect on me.

3. Believing that if the first draft is not perfect the story can never be great. First there’s the drawing, and then the painting. A first draft is a drawing, and it can only be colorless. The magic is in the colors, and these come with each new layer, with each new draft. The first draft needs a coherent plot. If it has that, it will do.

4. Doing too much research. Research is important, but the magic of stories lies not in repeating what others have already said. Research complements the story, and is something I try to do after I’ve written the story, to enhance.

5. Hoping that you can make money as a writer. While I hope my novel-writing will bring me immortality and posthumous satisfactions, I don’t expect it to bring me any money. Lack of money fosters creativity, and creates a vulnerability which makes you more sensible to the world around you.

6.Spending too much time blogging, thinking this helps your writing career. I might be narrow, but I don’t know a single famous novelist who uses WordPress for literary purposes. (Coco is a poet, therefore excluded.)

This arbitrary list is based on bad habits observed in my person. It’s not universal and it doesn’t attempt to teach anyone anything, its author being quite incapable of tying his own shoelaces.

PS: This post was written in great haste. Any grammatical errors shall be corrected at an unspecified date.

What other bad habits for a writer would you add to this list?

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49 thoughts on “Bad Habits for a Novelist

  1. I believe for the most part you are right. Though I have always been an avid reader, I never thought of it as interfering with my creative process. On the contrary, I find reading books of the same genre I am writing, feeds my imagination. (Or it did until I pretty much stopped writing about 5 years ago.)

  2. I am a poet, and IMHO you are correct. Sure I have the discipline to create forms of poetry to accepted standards. But never in my wildest imagination compose 400 pages of prose that anyone would want to read without the influence of a narcotic. My paying gig, I can write 400 pages of legal and technical jargon in a week or less. But that’s work and writing a novel technically should not be work….a typical response from a poet? 😉

  3. I take great umbrage as a poet with you statement about poets versus ‘writers’ or ‘novelists’. As a poet I work religiously at least ten hours a day, everyday at my craft, this is not even counting the time when not sitting at my desk that I spend thinking about should I do this or that with a poem, a line, or even a comma placement. I admit that a novelist has a long path he or she has set out on. But the poet has an equally long road. Where a novelist might use 400 pages to make a point, as salient as it may be, a poet must work in a confined space and with n economy of words. To say that a poet is some how lessrestricted, less focused, or works less intensely I consider a slight of the greatest proportion. Perhaps as a ‘novelist’ you should learn to choose your words and sentiments more vcarefully. >KB

    1. ‘To say that a poet is some how lessrestricted, less focused, or works less intensely I consider a slight of the greatest proportion.’

      I have never said that! I made one or two tongue-in-cheek references to poets hoping that I might impress Coco.

      I think all good writers are dedicated to their craft, whether they be novelists or poets.

  4. I have certainly killed good story ideas with too much research. One rabbit trail led to another and I never found the way back to the central line. I do like blogging for the daily habit of putting something down daily, anything, just for the discipline. When “real life” gets in the way of longer writing sessions, that is at least a touch point and constant stream.

  5. Is it possible to be a poet and a novelist? I’m probably much more of the latter, because its easy to do, but I get ideas for novels incessantly. Lately, i’ve taken to ignoring them. I don;t have the time to complete them…perhaps I should quit high-school also.Its irritatingly time consuming.

  6. I work with poets and find them more disciplined in their writing than novelists. Poets revise and continually eliminate words to create the image in as few words as possible while the novelist searches for words to build and color an image.
    In my opinion a bad habit for a novelist would be to show a work in progress to others. Unpublished writers can be particularly jealous and cruel.
    Thanks for your posts, Vincent, inspiring.

    1. Excellent comment!

      “In my opinion a bad habit for a novelist would be to show a work in progress to others. Unpublished writers can be particularly jealous and cruel.”

      I agree, which is why I have not yet shown my novel to anyone.

  7. i really need to work on 1,2 and 3. Thanks for sharing, it’s great encouragement to know that others sometimes have the same struggles 🙂

  8. 6.Spending too much time blogging, thinking this helps your writing career. < apart from the not writing bad habit lol, occasionally thinking that blogging will somehow help me get published and then sell books is pretty misguided. I treat the blogging seriously but try to remind myself writing my books is always more important.

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