8 Ways To Ensure You Write A Shitty First Novel

Herein Samuel Sattin presents 8 steadfast, industry-ignored methods for completely obliterating any chance you might have of writing an interesting debut work of fiction.

1. Have a complex and eventful social life.

Throughout literary history, authors have garnered a reputation for being creatures of unquenchable hedonism, from alcoholics and drug addicts to sex fiends with mommy issues, and generally free-spirited malcontents. But the majority of successful writers I know aren’t smelly nihilists, but focused, and fairly boring. Sure, the world has its Bukowskis, its modern Henry Miller and Norman Mailer incarnations and the like. But writing, especially in the age of immense distraction we live in, requires focus, dedication, and most importantly, time. Even if you surround yourself in cloud of reefer, or choose to down a bottle of Bourbon every night, you’ll be best doing so in solitude with your computer or notepad as opposed to on a dance floor or the local bar. Though there are exceptions to every rule, the chances that you will write a work of staggering genius while loaded on Jagermeister on a Tuesday at Egbert Sousa’s is slim to none. If you don’t embrace solitude and a solid work schedule, then your novel will most likely be booked up as well. With awfulness.


2. Write about the Human Condition.

Whenever somebody tells me he or she is writing about the ‘Human Condition’ I automatically know that whatever it is they’re working on is going to be painfully stupid. Not to say that people who are attempting to write about our lives on this planet can’t or don’t have smart things to say, but if they are actively trying to make those things the subject of their first novel, then you can expect 400 (hopefully fewer) pages of annoying characters who do the equivalent of masturbating each other’s egos while they rattle on about the state of the world. The reality is that if you’re writing about anything with humans in it (or even without humans in it) then you’re writing about the human condition. Everything from the Penthouse Confessions to Finnegan’s Wake is displaying something about the state of mankind. So if you really want to write a shitty first novel, make sure to tell everyone you’re writing about what everyone already writes about. Actually, just title the book The Human Condition so that we know not to read it, and then put it in the fireplace and go into finance.


3. Write about shit no one but you cares about.

One of the best ways to avoid writing an interesting novel is to write about something that absolutely no one in the world will give a shit about but you. Every aspiring author is guilty of this offense, myself included. It’s definitely a valid argument that a great writer can make any subject interesting, but if, like me, you’re starting out, you’re likely not a great writer, so the former just doesn’t apply. Sure, you should write what your heart desires, unless your heart desires to write about that time you knew every answer on Jeopardy! but no one was around to witness it or a slave/master fetish fantasy you’ve always had featuring a rubber ball, handcuffs, and an air balloon. ‘Cause if your heart desires that, then your heart also desires Zoloft. Develop your ideas to the point where someone else besides you can relate. If not, then you might as well be writing a private diary. And no one but you should care about your daily trivialities. Because when other people will be reading what you write, what you want isn’t the only thing that matters.


4. Demonstrate utter disdain towards your readership.

The best advice I ever received on how to write a glorious piece of crap was this phrase:

“Fuck the reader.”

Mind you, these words came from an incredibly famous writer you probably have heard of whose ability to say them stemmed from people, namely ‘readers,’ paying too much money to spend 20 or so hours with the pretentious and muddled nonsense he thinks is worthwhile enough to put into print. Therefore, one of the best ways to write something beyond the pale horrific is to think that the people who will read it don’t matter. In my experience those who think that the only thing that counts in their solipsistic lives is their capacious and superior brains are usually too short sighted to be useful. When it comes down to it, utter disregard for the source of your bread stems from insecurity and/or fear of one’s own sexuality. You want to write bad, write for no one. In fact, if you gain a fan, make sure to just punch that poor son of a bitch right in the kidney when he asks for your signature. And spit on him while you’re at it.


5. Use your novel as a soapbox for your inconsequential political ideals.

Okay, yes, books are living treasure troves of thought, and everything worth reading throngs with wisdom. But if you’re desperate to cram your proclamations about capitalism, the Middle East, or you’re time spent living abroad as an expat in Mexico into the few pages you have to convince someone you matter, the impression you’re likely to create is one of immense insecurity which, ultimately, will lead to annoying the fuck out of everyone around you. Politics is sensitive business, and the best writers always seem to find a way to render all issues of human governance grey and complex, as opposed to black and white. I don’t care if you’re liberal or conservative. If you are eager to make everyone see how sanctimonious your precious ideas are, and want to write an absolutely terrible book, then make sure to go for the gold with this one. Envision yourself as a Frankenstein consisting of Gandhi, Jesus, Martin Luther King, Che Guevara, Santa Claus, and Mother Theresa, but with your brain in tact. Because you know better than all of them, right? Of course you do.


6. Refuse to change anything about your supposedly ‘finished’ work when it’s on the verge of collapse.

One of the classic ways to make sure your book plunges into irrelevance is to think it is finished when it clearly is not. My debut novel, due out this April, was actually a different book entirely when it started, an absolutely terrible 600-page meandering stack of ego that needed to be sifted through for flakes of usefulness. About 13 pages’ worth, in all truth, is what I got out of it. And still, the book that ended up sprouting from it required sifting through as well. It had to be read from back to front, rewritten, eviscerated, and rewritten again, and still, sometimes I look upon it and wonder what I missed. If you really are trying to make sure your book goes down in history not at all, however, just make sure that you think you’re awesome enough not to require an ounce of critique or revision. Because really, what does anyone else know? It’s you who knows the secret origin of genius. Right?


7. Refer to yourself as the ‘Next Great American Writer’ in your self-ascribed bio.*

This should be obvious. But unfortunately, attending an MFA program and getting caught up in circles of struggling writers truly exposes you to the entire gamut of human hubris.* No, you are not like Zora Neale Hurston, John Cheever, Ralph Ellison, or Saul Bellow in any way, shape, or form. And if you did ever end up becoming like any of those people, it probably wouldn’t be because you made a conscious decision to. So if you describe yourself in your Introductory Fiction course as the next Gabriel Garcia Marquez expect that your novel is likely to make as many waves as a six-year-old at Sea World. It’s never a good idea to start off thinking that you’ve been able to master the art in days it took others to slug through for decades. Unless, that is, you want to write the worst book you can imagine, in which case, go for it!

* People looking to muck up their book in this category should practice misusing/mispronouncing useful phrases, such as “Flushed out” (as opposed to Fleshed out), and “Eat your babies,” (as opposed to Kill your darlings) and then attribute aforementioned quote to Hemingway instead of Faulkner (yes, I have actually witnessed this).


8. Write according to ‘What’s Hot.’

Now, although I prescribed ignoring your readership in order to fuck up your first novel beyond recognition, you can also create a pretty bad piece of nonsense from writing what the market demands. Not to say that keeping up with what’s new and innovative is going to make your novel suffer, but if you write only according to what a current trend happens to deem ‘in,’ chances are you’ll end up a) fucking it up, and b) missing the boat. Trends in fiction change so regularly that by the time you’re finished writing your YA dystopian fantasy the publishers will be searching for utopian up-market paranormal dog fiction. So although you certainly won’t destroy a novel as much as you might when writing about the Human Condition, you’ll definitely run the chance of digging your book’s grave before it’s even born. Originality, as pointed out in #3, can be awful. But it never hurts to try and create something new. If you write according to the Market’s oleaginous and ever changing wants, then you’re on a way one way trek to poopsville.


Samuel Sattin has made every one of these mistakes, and still continues to. He has thrown away two books, and will probably throw away two more. Currently, he continues to write shit no one cares about but him, and does it with exuberance and gusto. He is the next great American writer. 

About Samuel Sattin

Samuel Sattin (@samuelsattin)is the author of League of Somebodies, a debut novel about one family’s efforts to create the world’s first superhero. (Spoiler: It doesn’t go so well.) Imagine The Doom Patrol cross-pollinated with Philip Roth and then remixed by Mel Brooks. The novel is currently available in paperback from Dark Coast Press; Audible released the audiobook, performed by John Keating, earlier in 2013. Sattin is 31 years-old and lives in Oakland with his wife. His work has appeared in Salon, io9, Kotaku, and The Good Men Project. He’s currently a contributing editor at The Weeklings.
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8 Responses to 8 Ways To Ensure You Write A Shitty First Novel

  1. Great article! My mother recently found the first “real” (read as…typed) novel I wrote and emailed it to me. Thank God that thing never saw the light of day! LOL Although I have to say those slave/master fetish fantasies *do* have a readership… *coughs* ;)

    • Sam says:

      So sorry it’s taken so long to get back to you here. And yes, you are totally right about slave/master fantasies! I should qualify my silly list by saying that any topic, when written about well, is fair game for consumption. I think what I intended to mean is that when someone is bizarre without warrant (or let’s be honest, skill) the result is awful. But whips and chains away, as far as I say! If you can do it well (which you do) then flaunt it!

  2. Moe Murph says:

    I think “Utopian Up-Market Paranormal Dog Fiction” will be the name of my girl band, if I ever start one.

    We could wear black Chinese flat shoes and red kerchiefs on our heads and leggings, with white men’s Arrow shirts, do a lot of kicking and flailing, and have a theremin and a pedal steel guitar. We’d show videos of evil “girl villains” and monsters (like the 50 Foot Woman) and our hero would be Nico.

    It’s been a boring day at work…

    Very funny essay and congratulations on your debut novel!

    • Sam says:

      Hey thanks, Moe Murph! If you ever do end up starting such a righteous enterprise, let me know so I can stop by for a guess musical appearance with a triangle and a flame thrower.

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  5. Interesting article. Rare enough that someone isn’t too afraid of original US language with fuck and shit as regular prose. Thanks.

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