5 Things to Do When You’ve Written a Stinker

If you are a regular reader of my blog you know that writing is indeed hard work.  It takes a lot of time and effort and like anything that is done well it is sometimes difficult to make it work.  I think of that story about Thomas Edison who failed over 100 times to make a filament for a lightbulb and when he finally succeeded, stated that he learned over 100 ways to not make a light bulb filament.

Maybe you feel like Edison did at the 50th try.  Perhaps you have written a 150000 word novel only to discover that no one wants to finish reading it because (let’s face it) it’s really atrocious.  It could be that you have sent the first three chapters to an agent (or a whole forest of them) and they have all sent back rejection letters because your writing is “just bad”.

If you are reading this and you are ignoring criticism, listening to the rave reviews of your mother and relatives who really don’t know any better, then wake up because the dream is over.

Most importantly, even if you are just waking up or if you have known for a long time that your novel is a stinker, you should not give up hope.  There is a reason you have the gumption to write a long form novel, and your effort can be rewarded if you will do a few things to make sure you are not simply barking up the wrong tree (why all these tree references?).

  1. Hire an Editor – Go out and find a reputable person who is willing to edit your novel for money.  Find someone who knows what they are doing, who has to be paid for their services, and then wait patiently for them to return your manuscript.  When it returns, soak in every ounce of criticism they throw your way…and follow their suggestions.
  2. Take a Class – Maybe you are lacking the basic skills of writing a narrative that is readable.  You have an awesome story idea that is unique and unusual, but your writing skills somehow won’t do it justice.  A creative writing course will help you greatly.  I would steer away from doing seminars or “get published now” pied pipers who are usually not that knowledgeable and won’t have the time to give you the attention you need.  A creative writing class taught at a nearby college (preferably a four year college) would be great to give you a small group of critics in your corner.  Not only that you could learn some basic techniques from a college professor who has tons of experience writing prose.
  3. Don’t Trash It – Yes, that novel you wrote needs a lot of work, but throwing it all away is not the answer.  As you gain writing skills that fill in the gaps of your talent, you can go back and practice re-writing various scenes in your novel to reflect what you have learned.  Think of your stinker novel as a test bed for greatness.  Work on sections of it at a time, and always think of ways you can repair it and add to it so that one day it shines as your imagination feels that it should.
  4. Listen to Critics – Some of the best solutions to difficult prose problems have come from honest readers who were not afraid to ask hard questions.  These people exist in your life.  Explain to them that you need help, be humble, and cultivate an attitude of honesty.  Let people say whatever they want to say about your text with the idea that you are going to take seriously any criticism that they offer even if it hurts.  In this way you will not only find out what readers desire in a story but also build solid trusting friendships with others.
  5. Tenacity Pays Off – If you can weather criticism, adapt and change your tactics as a writer, and stick with an idea even if it is poorly written, the poorly written prose will eventually (with much revision) pull together into something that is readable and enjoyable for a reader.  Figure out what makes readers dig in for the long haul, do research, read blogs about writing, and above all don’t stop writing.  One day that stinker novel will (hopefully) come out smelling much better.

Published by Roger Colby, Novelist, Editor

Roger Colby is a novelist and teacher who has taught English for nearly two decades. He is also an avid reader of science fiction who feels, like many other sci-fi readers, that he has read everything. He writes science fiction for the reader who is looking for the next best thing, something to excite them into reading again. This blog is his journey as a writer and his musings about writing. He also edits manuscripts for a fee and is an expert at helping you reach your full potential as a writer.

3 thoughts on “5 Things to Do When You’ve Written a Stinker

  1. Good post! I started getting really serious about writing when I was about fourteen. I had this great story idea, and I was just sure I was going to write the “Great American Novel” and become a best-selling author by the time I graduated high school. Well, it took all of high school, a year of college, a creative writing class, a bazillion outlines, a handful of partial drafts, and several notebooks worth of scribbled ideas, and in the end I had a 6000-word short story and a pair of literary magazine rejections. The moral of this story? Yes, writing is hard work, and it doesn’t always turn out like you want it to. But as far as I’m concerned, I love writing too much to give it up. I’ve written (and continue to write) my share of “stinkers”, but I think you just have to keep things in perspective and realize it’s all part of the process. It’ll all pay off eventually. I hope. 🙂

  2. At this point in my life I usually know it’s stinker by the end of page one, so I stop writing and say goodbye. It took me a while to get here, though.

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