Sarah Ann Hall

Reporting on writing in progress or, more probably, not; practising flash fiction.

Book review: “How Not to Write Fiction,” by David Armstrong

with 2 comments

Warning, this book is dangerous.

I don’t usually write book reviews, and I’m not sure this counts as one, but I do think more writers should read David Armstrong’s (2003) How Not to Write Fiction. I might be out of touch (it won’t be the first or last time) and perhaps the book is well known and much read. It should be. I found my copy in a charity shop over the summer when I was taking an unintentional rest from writing. The opening pages state, “If you’re thinking of becoming a writer, read it. If you’re still writing at the end of it, you’d better accept it: you’re probably a writer too!” (p. 3). I can’t say whether it was Armstrong’s witty prose, or the summer break that helped, but I am writing again after six-months of doing nothing.

Armstrong’s book doesn’t quite address its title. Instead it takes an A-Z approach, including advances, agents, editors, research, PLR, and explains these in terms of his own experiences. Armstrong wrote this book after publishing five novels. He describes the up and down, the emotional ride of broken promises, the crushing moment when the agent and publisher that had published his first four books decided to not take his fifth. The book doesn’t take a crowing, ‘here, look at me, do it my way,’ approach. Instead, it is measured, describing the real life experiences of a mid-list writer – Armstrong’s self-description.

It is a warm, informative, funny read. I want to encourage others to read it, and I’m going to look out for Armstrong’s fiction now I have been exposed to enticing snippets. But most of all, the book has made me feel I shouldn’t give up. I hadn’t written for so long and hadn’t missed it. I was beginning to wonder whether or not I was committed or needy enough. And that’s why I feel this book is dangerous, because at the end of reading it, I wasn’t ready to pack in writing for good. On the contrary, I picked up my pen.


David Armstrong. (2003) How Not to Write Fiction. Allison and Busby. ISBN 0 7490 0680 3


Written by Sarah Ann

October 5, 2015 at 2:42 pm

2 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. I’ve not read this book but will take a look in my council library. I usually borrow to read and if a book proves interesting, will purchase it. To date, I’ve bought about 1,000 copies – all genre, fiction and non-fiction.

    Eric Alagan

    July 20, 2017 at 1:55 am

    • I found it again on my bookshelf when having a sort out this week. I’m thinking of reading again, for reassurance purposes if nothing else.

      Sarah Ann

      July 20, 2017 at 1:50 pm

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: