You, Too, Can Be a Terrible Writer

Press enough of these keys and you, too, can write a bad novel.
Press enough of these keys and you, too, can write a bad novel.
Do you ever say to yourself, “I can’t write my way out of a paper bag?” Good! That’s a cliché. If you know and use a lot of those, you are well on your way to becoming a lousy writer.

Being lousy doesn’t stop people from writing. There are people who are awful writers who write, anyway, because they don’t know how awful they are. Their friends pretend to read everything the inept scribe forces on them, and their reviews usually range from, “I thought it was cute” to “I enjoyed reading it.” Bad writers are easily encouraged by faint praise from people who don’t know squat but who sense that giving an author an unfavorable review to his face is a bad idea.

It isn’t all fun and compliant friends, though. There is an art to being a terrible writer. If you don’t believe me, just check this out:

The Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest

The winners of this contest work hard and long to come up with some of world’s crappiest writing, and they’re proud of it.*

In fact, if you want a great lesson in ridiculous writing, read the first page of Bulwer-Lytton’s Paul Clifford, including its famous opening line: ”It was a dark and stormy night ….”

Here are some pointers on how to be the new Bulwer-Lytton and write such drivel that, two hundred years from now, people will still be making fun of it.

1. Fill your writing with a lot of over-the-top descriptions, using as many words as you can think of. While you’re at it, use run-on sentences. For a good example of this, re-read that Paul Clifford opening sentence. It doesn’t get any better (i.e. worse) than that.

2. Don’t be afraid to use clichés. Example:

Don’t write this: The thick rain soaked through his hair, running down his cheeks like cold tears.

Write this instead: It was raining buckets all over him and he felt like shit.

A good cliché makes a story readable even to someone with a third grade comprehension level, which will expand your potential readership to the barely educated.

3. Don’t pay any attention to things like sentence structure, punctuation, flow of ideas and time sequences. Your readers’ brains need exercise. It’s good for them if they have to stop and try to figure out what the hell you’re trying to get at. In other words, throw away your old copy of Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style** or give it to someone who cares. In addition, never show your work to anyone with even a remote ability to edit it, and try to refrain from doing those tiresome revisions.

4. Use adverbs whenever possible. If you don’t know what an adverb is, maybe you shouldn’t have thrown that Strunk and White book away so quickly and forcibly.

5. Ignore all those silly grammar and spelling rules. Only a grammar or spelling Nazi will care, and they don’t count. If anyone mentions to you that your work reads like a high school remedial English paper, just turn your nose up and say, “It’s my style. I am chronicling the plight of the common man in his own language.” By the time the amateur critic has figured out what you have just said, you can be halfway across the room or out the door.

This concludes Lesson One. If you want further lessons, you’re going to have to pay me an exorbitant fee and take me out to dinner.

*This author among them. I won a Dishonorable Mention in the Romance category in 2009. If you scroll down, you’ll find it: 2009 Contest Winners.

**You can find it here, if you’re interested: The Elements of Style. You can also buy it.

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6 thoughts on “You, Too, Can Be a Terrible Writer”

  1. I like the idea of this contest. It reminds me of the I Love Lucy episode where the publisher wanted her book to teach others how NOT to write.

    1. Hehe! So many of those old comedy shows aren’t funny anymore, but I Love Lucy is always hilarious. A lot of the ideas were dreamed up by Desi Arnaz, who, apparently, was a comedy genius.

      The Honeymooners is still hilarious, too. Jackie Gleason was THE MAN (and Art Carney and Audrey Meadows — what a cast!).

  2. I love the fact that there’s a contest out there for terrible writers. It’s probably the ultimate way to test someones sense of humour though. If they win the contest and take it on the chin like a good loser, they can be in my gang.

    1. Hehehe!

      Actually, many of the people who enter this contest (and probably all of the ones who win anything) are good writers who set to work to deliberately write a bad opening sentence to a fictitious novel. We do this for the fun of it, and to try to come up with something hilarious. It’s just a really, really fun game. The big winner gets a couple of hundred dollars and some nice publicity. That’s all.

      Writing badly comes easy when you’re not trying to do that, but it’s really hard to write a bad sentence when you actually want to write a bad sentence. That, right there, is funny.

    1. Believe it or not, it’s hard to write bad prose when you are actually trying to make it bad! I don’t know how much I revised that entry (and several others that I submitted at the same time), but what you read is not the first draft. Hehe!

      I kind of outdid myself on that one, though.

      I submitted a few entries this year, too, but the only answer I got to the email with my hilarity in it was “Received. Archived.” Who knows what that means. I hope to see one of my masterpieces on their website again, but won’t hold my breath.

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