Are You Guilty of the Seven Deadly Sins of Novel Writing?

Are You Guilty of the Seven Deadly Sins of Novel Writing?

When I was a teen I went through a philosophical phase. One gem that has stayed with me ever since, associated with bushido and the code of the samurai is: Virtues are no less contagious than vices. Well, I enjoy a virtue as much as the next person, but I seem to learn more from my shadow side. And as confession is said to be good for the soul, I’ve made a list…

Sometimes it’s called vanity and, in a sense, you might also call it naivety. Writing is a solitary process and one needs a certain humility to submit your work to other people’s scrutiny. I don’t think it’s always necessarily linked to arrogance about one’s own ability. No, I think it’s sometimes recognising that showing other people your work meaning opening up the fault lines and laying bare all the work that still needs to be done.
Warning phrases:
“No one else ever could understand or appreciate my work.”
“I can do all the editing myself, thank you very much.” 
Most writers seem to look up the ladder rather than down. We yearn to be JK Rowling, or to get our book reviewed in national newspapers. Or our first thought, on hearing about someone else’s literary (or financial) success, could serve as the plot of a murder mystery: The case of the lucky bugger who wasn’t so lucky in the end. We forget that there are far more people behind us than ahead of us.
Warning phrases:
“It’s alright for them.”
“Well, of course, when you know the right people anything is possible.”

Greed & Lust
This manifests as a desire to be a writer primarily for the pleasures and opportunities it brings. Fame and fortune are the common aspirations, although other literary fictions are available! It’s a destination rather than a journey, which sees writing as a means to an imagined end where unmet needs are fulfilled. Rejections, negative reviews and publisher’s edits all help brings authors back to earth.
Warning phrases:
“I want to work for three hours a day and create an instant bestseller.”

“First I’ll write the book and then get a film deal, and then the next year I’ll do the same thing again. And then I’m set for life.”
“Just another 20 reviews and then I’ll be happy.”

For writers this one manifests in very specific ways. The person in a writer’s group who only comes to life when discussing their own work. The author who asks for blog posts and shares and votes yet rarely returns the favour. They want it all – even when they may seem to others to have it all – and they’d like your share too!
Warning phrases:
“As you helped me before with my other books…”

“Sadly, my busy writing schedule means I couldn’t possibly spare the time to reciprocate.”

A writer’s wrath will usually feel justified – to them, anyway. It can be triggered by various situations, including: someone else’s success, your own characters answering back, a realisation that your first 10,000 words on this book will also the last because it’s not working, a painful review, or any other aspect of being a writer that is beyond your control. (Which is actually most of it, beyond writing and editing.)

Warning phrases:
“How dare they!”

“I deserve better than this.”

Writing can be a painful business, filled with doubt and uncertainty. When you start page one you have no idea whether the story is sustainable and let’s not even get into whether it will be published or be well received. In the beginning there’s just you and those blank pages. There is never a perfect time to write!
Warning phrases:
“I’ll start my book when I feel truly inspired.”
“If it’s meant to be it will happen effortlessly.”


  1. Sandra Davies says:

    I recognise myself in "I can do all the editing myself, thank you very much" but would say, in part-defence, that there's a fear of it no longer being MY book if I hand it over. That said, of course, I take advice from beta readers and recognise where (a recurring problem) I can't remember the precise word and substitute.
    Interesting idea though.

  2. Hi Sandra, thanks for your comment. My work certainly changes when an editor goes through it, but I subscribe to the view that the first draft is for me (and the second!) and any that follow are for the reader. Beta readers are a godsend, as are writing groups in my experience. In the end it is a balance between what remains true to your vision and inspiration, and what sits well with readers.

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