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Tuesday, September 15, 2009

This Year You Write Your Novel

Mosley, Walter. This Year You Write Your Novel. Little, Brown Company, 2007.

I have a weakness for "How to" books from my favorite authors, so I was happy to discover Walter Mosley’s This Year You Write Your Novel. This slender volume (128 pages) doesn’t break new ground in advice on the general mechanics of writing. Mosley provides generally the same advice on the elements of fiction that are found in most books on novel writing, such as the various points of view, showing vs. telling, and so on. But his advice still worth reading, both for the value of reinforcing the fundamentals and also for Mosley’s characteristic poetic style. In discussing the need to chose the right descriptive details to advance the story or characterization, he advises, "Details will devour your story unless you find the words that want saying." On the need to write daily to maintain momentum and keep the story from slipping away, he writes, "[A] novel is larger than your head." On making writing a first priority: "Let the lawn get shaggy and the paint peel from the walls."

All of Mosley’s advice is delivered in the gentle but insistent tone of the best teachers and coaches. For me, the most valuable chapter was the one dedicated to "The General Disciplines That Every Writer Needs." In particular, a section on "Avoidance, False Starts, and Dead-End Thinking" contained a wealth of wisdom on overcoming a persistent problem with self-restraint. "If you want to write believable fiction," he urges, "you will have to . . . revel in the words and ideas that you would never express in your everyday life."

Other than his insistence that you must write every day, there is little of the strident, dogmatic tone I have found in similar books by other authors. Mosley gives advice but does not, for example, insist that you must use an outline--or that you must not. He encourages writers to find their own methods of writing, and to persevere in those methods until the first draft is complete. He has extensive advice on revision, which in his view is where the real act of writing begins. A first draft, he says, "is little more than an outline of the novel you wish to write." Once you have finished that draft, "you are ready to write it."

There are more comprehensive books on writing, and if you’ve read any of them, you won’t find a lot of new ideas in This Year You Write Your Novel. But if you’re a fan of Mosley’s style or if you need a little encouragement to motivate you, it’s worth picking up.

1 comment:

The Cyber Guy said...

Thanks for the review of Mosley. I find the more I read the less new stuff I learn and the more inspiration I get, though I'm far from knowing it all. I'm reading some James Scott Bell books, and will see if I can find Mosley's to compare. Right now the hardest part for me is the daily quota. Too many other things keep getting in the way.