Marilyn Monroe’s ‘Twelve Mistakes All Writers Make!’

Required reading for anyone who wants to be a successful writer.

Marilyn says DON’T …

… write without a master’s degree.

If your dentist, as he clamped open your mouth to perform root canal surgery, revealed that he was an actuary by training and only practiced dentistry at the weekends, when his kids aren’t running amok that is, you’d not stand for it, would you?

… give your characters stupid names.

JK Rowling’s least successful Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Staircase of Mystery, never sold because the antagonist was called Jeremy Fartalot.

… avoid adverbs.

Many writers have made more money from writing ‘how-to guides’ on writing than writing their own writing. Jonathan Franzen, for example. Never take advice from a published novelist — it’s in their interest to give you bad advice in order to stop you from being published. Think about it.

One of the most often given advice given is to avoid adverbs. This is wrong. The best writers use adverbs liberally. Consider the following two examples:

1) She kissed him.

2) She kissed him massively erotically.

(2) is the best and if I have to explain why, why not open a Pinterest account or whatever it is people do when they’re not claiming to be writers?

… forget the basics — sex, toilet, food.

Write what you know. OK. What most wannabe writers don’t understand is this doesn’t mean describing your office job or the whining of your teething seven-month-old or how you coped with your father’s death by getting involved in falconry. Back up. What do you really know? What have you done most in your life or, at least, have thought about the most?

Eating, fucking, and having a toilet.

Ensure that these three key human characteristics, what mark us from the animal world, are covered thoroughly in your novel — whatever its content may be more generally. Harry Potter was great, yes, but imagine how good it could have been with more sex, eating, and having a toilet. JK Rowling’s not won the Nobel Prize, has she?

… use a word-processor.

The 19th century was the apex of the novel. Moby-Dick, Wuthering Heights, White Teeth. Name one 19th century novelist who used Microsoft Word and I’ll accept I’m wrong. The decline of the novel is in direct proportion to the growth of home computer ownership.

… attempt to write in your own house/office.

The reason so many successful novelists have Oxbridge/Ivy League degrees (Lee Child studied Theology at Sydney Sussex, Cambridge in the late 1980s) isn’t because their superior intellect enables them to write better novels. It’s because they’ve got cash and cash enables you do to everything better. In particular, it enables writers to write in writers’ retreats. Every American ‘Best Novel Prize’-winning novel was either written in an artists’ colony or a writer’s retreat. Don’t believe me? Google it. Paul Beatty’s The Sellout was was written in a Newfoundland lighthouse that can be booked for $5000 a night on AirBnB.

… swear

It’s just another hurdle to put before your mother, your agent, your publisher, your audience. That said, if you’ve included working class characters in your novel, they’re likely to use foul language. A compromise is to invent your own swearwords.

‘Fack off!’ screamed the serial killer.


‘Fack your ballocks from my face, you cant.’

… neglect the basics — the three unities.

Aristotle, Ancient Rome’s Dan Brown, said you’d never reach the NYT bestsellers list without having unity of time, place and action. Therefore, the perfect novel takes place in a room in the space of an hour and only one thing happens like the door closing, for instance.

… repeat words in your manuscript.

There’s nothing more irritating than a writer with a limited vocabulary. With Word’s synonym function, there’s no reason to use the same word more than once. One of my particular bug bears is modern novelists’ lack of imagination when it comes to reporting speech. Instead of ‘said’ why not use one of the following alternatives?









… forget to include long descriptions of characters’ genitals.

Don’t ask me why, but readers go wild for it.

See: Howard’s End, For Whom the Bell Tolls, Moby-Dick, anything by BS Johnson.

…. include any children.

If you’re a parent, you don’t want to be reminded during the five minutes you’ve snatched from the demands of your screaming offspring that you’re a parent. If you’re not a parent, you don’t want to be reminded that one day you may be a parent or that you’re too hideous/poor to ever father/mother children. Either way, as a writer, you want to be avoiding including children in your book. Name one serious novel that could be improved by the addition of children. Exactly.

… describe a scene that can’t be described with a picture instead.

Novels were invented before photographs. There’s a reason that there’s never been a Medium piece without a image. It’s how people’s minds are wired. The ease of access to internet pornography means we’re all visual creatures these days. Why spent three pages describing a ruined abbey when you can simply enter ‘ruined abbey’ into Google Image search?

… include any references to modern culture.

There’s nothing more cringe than reading a book with dated references. It’s why nobody reads Dickens anymore. Who’s interested in depictions of a London without the nightbus, the Shard, Japanese tourists? What the fuck is a workhouse? A Dalston nightclub? (Sadly not.)

… ever describe a character’s skin colour.

Having once tweeted an innocent query to Rowling about Hermione’s ethnicity, I speak with authority when I state that it’s best not to engage with the political hot potato of race. So, to avoid accusations of racism, avoid making your characters any particular ethnicity. This means not only avoiding describing their skin colour, but also describing the type of food or music they might enjoy. The same applies to gender. Don’t make representations of femininity an issue by ensuring all your characters are gender neutral.

… use the word ‘moist’.

Readers hate it.


… ever think you’re too good a writer to subtly use Marilyn Monroe to get people to read your stuff.

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