Why You Need To Write (At Least) One Bad Novel

Why You Need To Write (At Least) One Bad Novel


I finished my first complete manuscript of a novel a few days before my twenty-first birthday. When printed out, it was like a mini skyscraper – and, for me, a towering achievement. It was a giddy experience – I can remember that feeling even after all these years. It had taken me just over a year to write and it was over 90,000 words.

I decided to send it over to a manuscript appraisal service. In the days before email, you had to send your manuscript by mail. My friend’s mother took me to the post office to have it sent by registered post. ‘Do you know this is a book he wrote all by himself?’ she told the bored woman behind the counter. I was embarrassed but also a bit proud.

I was expecting this unseen but benevolent editor to send a letter confirming my young genius. Imagine my surprise when she sent back page after page about what was wrong with my book. She did say it had potential – she was being kind – but when I look back it was a phantasmagoric mess. I did end up writing a complete second draft of that novel but it was just too far-fetched. It ended up in a drawer and eventually lost completely.

Yes, that first manuscript was a mess, but it was finished. I’d written two of the most satisfying words in the English language on the last page. The End. And, psychologically, that’s an important milestone you have to hit as a writer.

You have to get that first bad book out your system. You have to finish.

Top Tip: If you want to learn how to write a book, join our Writers Write course in Johannesburg or sign up for our online course.

by Anthony Ehlers

Other posts by Anthony:

  1. Why Dreamers Will Always Have Enemies
  2. Why You Have To Give Your Readers What They Want
  3. What A Family Of Bears In A Car Taught Me About Storytelling

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This article has 2 comments

  1. Marie

    Hi Anthony
    I just finished the first draft of my first novel last November (NaNoWriMo 2016)…

    at 59 years of age. (Compared to your 21years for your first nove!)

    I can hardly bear to look back and read any of it. I really don’t know where to start to fix it , to make it readable for any other human.

    I hope to find a bit of guidance and inspiration from your articles here!

    Regards. Marie.

  2. Anthony Ehlers

    There’s lots of advice here, Marie. I would say 1) re-read it with a dispassionate eye 2) fix any obvious errors but don’t rewrite it 3) ask a friend to read it – but only a friend who will be honest with you. To be honest, I would re-write my first book but in such a way it would be a completely different story.

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