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Writer's Digest presents an excerpt from my webinar, "Three Secrets of the Greats: Structure Your Story for Ultimate Reader Addiction."

Joanna Penn of The Creative Penn, one of the Top 10 Blogs for Writers, interviews me about storytelling, writing, independent editing, and the difference between literary fiction and genre, with an impromptu exercise on her own Work-in-Progress.

Editing client Stu Wakefield, author of the Kindle #1 Best Seller Body of Water, talks about our work together on Memory of Water, the second novel of his Water trilogy.






  • By Victoria Mixon

    Last week we learned how to characterize wrong. The week before that we learned how to plot wrong.

    And today I’m going to teach you how to cripple your book so that—even if your plot is maximum overdrive and your characterization nothing short of brilliant—no one in the industry will touch it with a ten-foot pole.

    You know what I did yesterday? To celebrate Father’s Day with my wonderful, hardworking husband? Twisted my ankle and wound up on the couch watching him cook his own dinner.

    I told you June was going to be all about doing things backward.

    So get busy and write wrong:

    1. Model your writing on crap

    2. If the single best way to learn to write well is to study the literary canon with enormous care and all the intelligence you can muster to learn the techniques of the greats. . .that makes the single best way to learn to write wrong reading nothing but cheap modern crap and telling yourself, ‘If they can get away with that, I can get away with anything.’

      Because writing is all about ‘what you can get away with,’ isn’t it? Heaven forbid it should be a highly-developed craft with a long and illustrious history of hard work, dedication, and sometimes real genius behind it.

      It’s a slot machine!

      Garbage in, garbage out.

    3. Believe the uber-marketing hypesters who tell you, “The writing doesn’t matter”

    4. So don’t waste your time actually learning how to write, people. The writing doesn’t matter. Throw your random, half-baked ideas into unpolished words—your ideas, your brilliant ideas that no one, not even the geniuses in the history of literature, ever, ever, ever thought of before—and shove them PDQ down the Golden Query Chute. And that deafening silence you get in reply? That just means they’re too busy shuffling through the mountains of shlock everyone else who doesn’t care about the writing keeps shoveling through their mail slots—they can’t recognize natural talent anymore when they see it.

      It’s the era of entitlement! And you’re entitled to be rich and famous.

      Don’t pause to learn how to write. You don’t have time. (Why not? I don’t know. But you don’t.) Just keep on shoveling. Someone’s bound to be young, inexperienced, and/or desperate enough to take you on. And after that—whoa!—it’s Easy Street.

      Move over, J.K. Rowling.

    5. Be in a hurry to get published

    6. And this is why it’s best to read only stuff being shoveled as fast as possible through the chute right now, this minute—because that will show you what sells.

      No, you don’t have a famous name or a devoted following of hundreds of thousands or insider knowledge of how writing and modern publishing work, like the best sellers who—for business reasons of their own—often no longer have the time to polish their work properly before they publish it.

      But you’re going to skip right over that little detail. What they do you can do.

      Without their famous name. Or their reputation. Or their understanding of the craft and industry. Or their publisher. Or their agent. Or their mega-numbers of readers. I guess. . .

      So, when in doubt, be sure to ramble on for pages in exposition, explaining your story in vague abstractions for that dimwit you expect to buy it (a fool and their money, yesirree), substitute noises you make up yourself for dialog (“Waaaghghghgh! Nngngng. Uh, dunno, duncare”), brand names for telling details (doesn’t everyone know brand names? I mean, we’re all glued to our shopping malls and TV commercials together, right?), and the verb ‘grab’ for every action you possibly can (“She grabbed the door, ran in the house and grabbed her keys, grabbed a Diet Coke from the fridge, and as she ran out he jumped out from behind the door and grabbed her”).

      Your reader will get the general idea. Because these days readers don’t read books carefully, anyway, only buy them for the famous names on the covers (although you did, you admit, skip over that little detail). And since they’re reading standing in line to buy cheap plastic crap they don’t need, anyway, that’s all they care about.

    Literature? It’s the twenty-first century, people! We don’t need no stinkin’ literature.

    Next week we’ll learn how to revise wrong.

    Naturally, none of this helps at all if we don’t know 9 Ways to Find the Time to Write.

    Hi, my name is Victoria, and I have written mountains of shlock. But I didn’t publish it—not most of it, anyway—and I’m working to get better now, one day at a time.

    UPDATE: Phyllis K. Twombly has added: Neglect Feedback; Ignore Concepts Within One’s Chosen Genre; Don’t Research

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    20 Comments

    “The freshest and most relevant
    advice you’ll find.”

    —Helen Gallagher, Seattle Post-Intelligencer

    The Art & Craft of Writing Fiction

    The Art & Craft of Writing Stories


    A. VICTORIA MIXON, FREELANCE INDEPENDENT EDITOR

    VICTORIA’S ADVICE COLUMN

    20 Comments

20 Responses to “How to Write Wrong, in 3 Easy Steps”

  1. I love this post. What a shame that the people who should really read it won’t – because of course they don’t have time.

    Hope your ankle gets better soon!

  2. Victoria said on

    Thanks, Sarah! It’s better. Doesn’t stop me from typing, anyway.

    No, they won’t read it. But I do run into them out there in the writing community.

    They get tired of me really fast.

  3. A few more tips for writing badly: One should also neglect any critical feedback from peers, especially from those who are already successful; ignoring concepts and trends within one’s chosen genre can be extremely helpful in failure; and research, really, who does that anymore?

    This has been kind of fun. Heal quickly.

  4. Victoria said on

    This is great, Phyllis. I’m going to start a list. . .

  5. This really resonates with me.
    Over the last couple months I’ve come to the realization that you can have the greatest and most unique ideas in the world, but what people are really looking for is the writing. I know I have the creativity, the drive, the passion for writing. I come up with all these great characters, situations, plot twists, everything. But what I’m lacking is the ability to write it all coherently.
    The ideas don’t sell the writing. It’s the writing that sells the ideas.

  6. Victoria said on

    “The ideas don’t sell the writing. It’s the writing that sells the ideas.”

    That’s a great way to put it, Andrew. That’s how it works with readers.

    The freaky thing, though, is that, because of the way the writer-to-publisher relationship is structured, it’s backward in the query process. The uber-marketing focus of current publishing means they just want the ideas, but when they see poor writing in the partial suddenly they can’t use those ideas anymore.

    So publishers are going at it the opposite direction from readers. This is how they wind up publishing poorly-written books and passing on beautifully-written ones.

    Marketers are not good judges of quality storytelling. But readers are.

  7. I especially like your advice not to be in a hurry to be published. P.S. I love your header photo!

  8. Victoria said on

    Thanks! That’s my cat, Elwood P. Dowd. He’s a terror.

    So much of the current aspiring writing community is dominated by the marketing push to get published. This is not because publishers want amateurs to send them their first drafts. This is because amateurs pay marketers to say that to them.

  9. Bad writers will always find a way to publish junk and the traditional industry puts out its share. But the increase in modern publishing options hopefully means more good authors will find a readership.

    I’m not a best seller (yet) but my writing continues to grow. Now I’m studying the film industry to learn how to be a screenplay writer. Publication should be a goal but not the end of the line.

  10. Hi, I’m Melissa and I have mountains of schlock hidden away in a drawer. I must also confess that I still have plenty of schlock-producing days. The only upside is that after several years of writing, I now have a better functioning schlockometer and can spot the schlock and repair it before I try to force some innocent reader to endure it.

    Great post–entertaining and educational (sarcasm is one of my favorite flavors)

  11. Victoria said on

    Chorus: Hi, Melissa!

    Thanks for the word ‘shlockometer’. 🙂

  12. Hi Victoria,

    I don’t know if I’ve commented here before, but I appreciate your blog. I’m more of a teacher than a writer. I don’t care about getting published, but I care about words and the kids I teach. That’s why your posts, this one in particular, so appeal to me. Thanks.

  13. Victoria said on

    Why, thank-you, Brian! Yeah, I care a lot about the kids in this world, too. I tutor local creative writing students. I love those guys—always reminding me of the joy of this work.

  14. I completely agree, one thing that drives me nuts about modern books is the amount of curse words that are only in there because the lazy author can’t think of better ways for their characters to express themselves. Its an affront to all forms communication in my opinion and is a sign of a crappy writer. Curse words are meant to be used when expressing a strong emotion that no other word can express, not shot off like bottle rockets on the forth of July. Ok I’m getting off my soap box now. I’m glad that I got one thing right, don’t be in a hurry to publish. I gave up on getting a book published anytime in the near future long ago. I’ll keep this advice in mind though, I’m a firm believer in writing being an art to be mastered by looking at the works of the old masters. Not by copying off the modern works of art that no one understands but for some reason sell for millions (I don’t like modern art, can you tell?).

  15. Victoria said on

    🙂 I love the Old Masters. When I was a child, my family visited most of the famous museums of Italy, France, Spain, and England. That was an education in art that can never be undone.

    Profanity’s an issue of handling powerful language. Like all techniques it has its uses, but also like all techniques a little bit goes a very long way.

    Dialog isn’t supposed to be a tape-recorder, anyway. It’s a highly-developed set of techniques to recreate realistic-sounding human conversation in the reader’s mind.

  16. Love the sarcasm! Maybe another way to write wrong is to leave the ending for the publisher to fill in.
    Threre is a lot of bad writing out there, too bad those writers won’t read this..they don’t think have anything left to learn.

  17. Victoria said on

    There’s a fine line between epiphany and laziness. A good writer has to know the difference.

  18. LKWatts said on

    This is a fantastic post and I agree with everything said. I always like to remind myself with the well known phrase: ‘Good things come to those who wait.’
    I definitely agree with Amy about the use of curse words. It does signify lack of imagination.

  19. Victoria said on

    ‘Good things come to those who wait.’ I love that phrase.

    I’ve been writing stories and poetry for almost forty years. I could have been publishing, but, you know, I could very well have been publishing stuff that would later make me cringe to re-read. So I didn’t. I just kept developing craft, writing professionally in nonfiction fields, and being grateful every day that fiction is my chosen life. It’s a fabulous life to live.

  20. It’s great to get kids interested in reading. I generally recommend 13+ for my the age of my readers because of the content. However, I was tastefully discreet with my aliens’ romance and reproduction. A few younger readers have been discovering my novels, with one mother telling me her son liked my stories because there weren’t loaded with ‘mushy stuff.’




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Authors


MILLLICENT G. DILLON, represented by Harold Ober Associates, is the world's expert on authors Jane and Paul Bowles. She has won five O. Henry Awards and been nominated for the PEN/Faulkner. I worked with Dillon on her memoir, The Absolute Elsewhere, in which she describes in luminous prose her private meeting with Albert Einstein to discuss the ethics of the atomic bomb. Read more. . .


SASHA TROYAN is a Professor of English at Montclair University and author of the critically-acclaimed novels Angels in the Morning and The Forgotten Island, both Booksense Selections, tragic and beautiful stories based upon her childhood in France. I worked with Troyan to develop her new novels, Marriage A Trois and Semester. Read more. . .


LUCIA ORTH is the author of the debut novel, Baby Jesus Pawn Shop, which received critical acclaim from Publisher’s Weekly, NPR, Booklist, Library Journal and Small Press Reviews. I have edited a number of essays and articles for Orth. Read more. . .


BHAICHAND PATEL, retired after an illustrious career with the United Nations, is now a journalist based out of New Dehli and Bombay, an expert on Bollywood, and author of three non-fiction books published by Penguin. I edited Patel’s best-selling debut novel, Mothers, Lovers, and Other Strangers, published by Pan Macmillan. Read more. . .


SCOTT WILBANKS, represented by Barbara Poelle of the Irene Goodman Literary Agency, is the author of the debut novel, The Lemoncholy Life of Annie Aster, published by Sourcebooks in August, 2015. I'm working with Wilbanks on his sophomore novel, Easy Pickens, the story of the world’s only medically-diagnosed case of chronic naiveté. Read more. . .


SCOTT WARRENDER is a professional musician and Annie Award-nominated lyricist specializing in musical theater. I work with Warrender regularly on his short stories and debut novel, Putaway. Read more. . .


M. TERRY GREEN enjoys a successful self-publishing career with her three sci-fi/fantasy series based on her dual careers in anthropology and technology. I worked with Green to develop a new speculative fiction series. Read more. . .


DARREN D. BEYER is an ex-NASA experiment engineer who worked on every Space Shuttle orbiter but Challenger. In Casimir Bridge, the first novel of his debut sci-fi series, Beyer uses every bit of his scientific expertise to create a galaxy in which "space bridges" allow interstellar travel based upon the latest in real theoretical physics. Read more. . .


ANIA VESENNY, represented by Beverly Slopen Literary Agency, is a recipient of the Evelyn Sullivan Gilbertson Award for Emerging Artist in Literature and has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. I edited Vesenny's debut novel, Swearing in Russian at the Northern Lights, and her second novel, Sandara. Read more. . .


STUART WAKEFIELD is the #1 Kindle Best Selling author of Body of Water, the first novel in his Orcadian Trilogy. Body of Water was 1 of 10 books long-listed for the Polari First Book Prize. I edited Wakefield's second novel, Memory of Water, and look forward to editing the final novel of his Orcadian Trilogy, Spirit of Water. Read more. . .


GERALDINE EVANS is a best-selling British author. Her historical novel, Reluctant Queen, is a Category No 1 Best Seller on Amazon UK. I edited Death Dues, #11 in Evans' fifteen popular Rafferty and Llewellyn cozy police procedurals, which received a glowing review from the Midwest Book Review. Read more. . .


JUDY LEE DUNN is an award-winning marketing blogger. I am working with Dunn to develop and line edit her memoir of reconciling liberal activism with her emotional difficulty accepting the lesbianism of her beloved daughter, Tonight Show comedienne Kellye Rowland. Read more. . .


LISA MERCADO-FERNANDEZ writes literary novels of love, loss, and friendship set in the small coastal towns of New England. I edited Mercado-Fernandez' debut novel The Shoebox and second novel The Eighth Summer. Read more. . .


JEFF RUSSELL is the author of the debut novel, The Rules of Love and Law, based upon Jeff's abiding passions for legal history and justice. Read more. . .


LEN JOY is the author of the debut novel, American Past Time. I worked with Len to develop his novel from its core: a short story about the self-destructive ambitions of a Minor League baseball star, which agents had told him to throw away. Read more. . .


In addition, I work with scores of aspiring writers in their apprenticeship to this wonderful literary art and craft.

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