I am almost done with Novel in a Year
by Louise Doughty and it's a case of good intentions barbed with terribleness. As she gives one good slice of advice (to be a good writer, one must read and read a lot
) she also gives this:
“I don’t wish to discourage you from reading the classics – unless it’s Henry James, in which case I would discourage you from even giving him room on the shelves in your toilet.”
Recounting the many funny one-liners she received to a writing exercise leaves us with this indecipherable metaphor:
“Amusing as they were, the jokey one-liners I was often sent did make me think of a fat person who deals with their obesity by making jokes about how heavy they are. However much you admire their coping strategy, you can’t help feeling they would be better off if they took their problem seriously and went on a diet.”
And you know, anything but writing a novel isn’t that cool. This isn't so much offensive as just unnecessary.
“That is why, for me, novels are the ultimate written art form, the Himalayas of literature.”
Her writing tip is to compose lists of Enemies and Allies to your writing. I like this idea in practice because it's always good to assess what you are actually doing with your versus what you want to be doing (or should), but this...
“But apart from shredding them, what can you do about your Enemies? You probably don’t want to divorce the husband who always makes snide remarks about your writing — not over this issue at least. But you could choose to stop discussing your ambitions with him.”
I’ve broken up with people who made snide remarks about my ambitions, so I think it’s a valid reason as any to end a relationship if your partner opts to make snide remarks and be mean about your ambitions rather than support them. These are people who you're intimate with. Do you want them around if they only make rude remarks about your ambitions and dreams and hopes?
There are good bits of advice in it though, but they can be summarized in a few bullet points.
- Read contemporary writers as all writers are product of their times.
- Learn to cut and trim. Be ruthless with it.
- Get to know all your characters, even the minor ones. Write about them, embellish their lives, but recognize what you will actually use in the story and what will not be in there.
- One exercise I genuinely liked and will have to do a lot since my ultimate weakness is dialogue. "Write six lines of dialogue between two people, giving them three lines each. Have them discuss the refurbishment of the local library. Twist? Convey to the reader through this dialogue that they utterly loathe each other."
- As you start getting ideas of what it is you want to write, schedule ten weeks where you ruthlessly cut into any tasks or meetings or other events you can decline. Spend your time writing wildly, without care for chronology. Write a whole chapter, write scenes, scattered sentences. Jump around. The most important aspect is that you keep building up a body of work.
- Spread out the written stuff on a table, the floor or the wall. Organize. If you feel a bit is too thin, make a note of it. Keep going back and forth to add or detract or move things around, but keep in mind that it is still the rough draft version.
- Learn to rewrite a little even in the draft mode. It's important to get stuff out onto the page, yes, but each day when you start again, look back at what you have written and change a little if it feels necessary.
- Acknowledge what you do well.
- Give yourself some time off. Pencil in a week or two where you shut your writing off and don't think about it.
- Make time for your writing.
Essentially, there's a few bits of genuinely good advice, but it is nothing new or ground-breaking. You have to wade through a lot of the author's own ego to get there, and I don't think it's worth the time and effort for that. There are better books on reading to find out there, and far more writing advice for free online.