By Ekta R. Garg
January 1, 2014
For the last book in The Write Edge Year-long Writing Workshop, I decided to buy and read How to Write a Novel: 47 Rules for Writing a Stupendously Awesome Novel That You Will Love Forever by Nathan Bransford. I started following Bransford’s blog last year, and it has provided me with dozens of insights into writing and the publishing world. When I found out he had started writing a book about writing a novel, I immediately knew I wanted it to round out my reading list for this year.
For those of you not familiar with Bransford, he spent many years as a literary agent with Curtis Brown Ltd. He eventually left that position but still stays firmly entrenched in the publishing world through his valuable contacts and writing his YA series about his character, Jacob Wonderbar. Aside from a successful career, however, Bransford stays on the ground when it comes to the fans and readers of his blog. He interacts frequently with people and often solicits comments and feedback. I don’t know if it’s because the digital revolution makes it so easy for authors to stay in touch with their readers or if it’s because Bransford is young enough to feel comfortable using technology to do so.
After reading his blog for so many months, my strongest hunch is that Bransford is basically a really nice guy who actually cares about people and wants to help them become better writers.
Because of the positive vibe from his blog, I knew I wanted his book about writing a novel. After all, someone who has done it himself (to great success) and has guided other writers through the process (again, to great success) would definitely know how to offer advice on the process. And because I’m familiar with Bransford’s fun, practical style, I knew I would enjoy the book as much for the writing as I would for the advice.
(Disclaimer: Any mistakes in the quotes I use are mine.)
The subtitle states that the book contains “47 Rules,” and Bransford has divided the book accordingly. His breezy style comes through right from Rule #1, “Believe,” in which he encourages aspiring writers to have faith in their work when he says:
“You can’t possibly go and write the worst novel ever written. It’s already been done. Don’t even try. You probably shouldn’t try to write the best novel ever written either, because the resulting paralysis will turn you in a miserable alcoholic. Instead, write the novel you want to write.”
He also ties his Rule titles into the heart of each chapter. This makes it easy to remember the Rule and the advice. For Rule #3, “Find the Writing Style that Works for You,” Bransford covers the idea that every writer needs to find his or her own rhythm and routine. No two writers have the same routine.
“There are no common threads shared by great writers other than hard work and talent.”
Bransford’s experience as a literary agent also comes through loud and clear. While using short chapters in the form of Rules makes it easy to pop off some fun one-liners, Bransford never forgets that he’s offering writers practical advice for their careers in the craft. In Rule #13, “Write a Killer First Page,” he succinctly sums up the purpose of the opening of a novel.
“Here’s what the first page needs to do: it needs to establish the tone and voice of the novel, it needs to get the reader into the flow of the book, and it needs to establish trust between the author and the reader.”
Not afraid to gently refute popular advice of the current day and age, Bransford also gives writers tips on how to avoid big problems in their writing. In Rule #38, “Edit As You Go,” he says:
“There is one very simple and important reason why you should self-edit: problems can snowball.”
For success as a writer, though, Bransford says it best at the very end of the book.
“Keep writing. Didn’t find an agent? Keep writing. Book didn’t sell? Keep writing. Book sold? Keep writing. OMG an asteroid is going to crash into the planet and enshroud it in ten feet of ash? Keep writing. People will need something to read in the resulting permanent winter.”
Needless to say I loved the book. Bransford has a way of encapsulating all of the essential rules of writing a good story. I felt like How to Write a Novel took all the high points from all the other books I read for the Workshop and packed them into one slim reference that I know I’ll use again and again. Reading all the other books before this one enriched the entire experience of the Workshop as well as this book, because I got the long-form detailed explanation of every important point about writing in the other books and a refreshing roundup in this last book.
It was the perfect way for me to end the reading list of the 2013 Writing Workshop. Now I can’t wait to implement everything I’ve learned in my writing going forward this year.