This Year You Write Your Novel by Walter Mosley

By Ekta R. Garg

February 12, 2014

Because I’m going to attempt NaNoWriMo this November, I thought it would help to read something that would encourage and empower me.  When I came across This Year You Write Your Novel, the title itself put me in the right frame of mind to approach my long story for this fall (I don’t know yet that it’ll be a novel, but I’m pretty sure it’ll be long enough to meet NaNoWriMo specifications.)  So I decided to make it the first book of the new year of The Workshop Reading List.

When I saw the slim volume, its length surprised me a little bit.  I didn’t know quite what to expect.  After finishing the book I had mixed feelings.  Mosley offers some good advice to writers, but in other places I felt like he let writers down.

(Disclaimer:  Any mistakes in the quotes I use are mine.)

In the introduction Mosley gives beginner writers a good dose of reality when he says, “Rewriting is the most important job for the novelist; this is where the real work begins.  The first draft is little more than an outline of the novel you wish to write.”  This point is important; too many writers feel like they can write a single draft, go online and hit “Publish,” and then become authors.

I also really liked the way Mosley compared plot and story to skeleton and flesh.  The plot, he says, is the skeleton that holds all the important elements together.  The story is the flesh that gives a book its depth, its persona, its outwardly defining elements.  This is first time I’ve read or heard anyone put it in such concrete terms.  It’s easy to grasp the subtle differences between plot and story with this example, and I’m really happy I found it.  I know I’m going to refer to it many times to help me navigate my own stories going forward.

However, Mosley also manages to give some vague advice, and I think he does a major disservice to writers with it.  Seasoned writers may just roll their eyes at Mosley’s words, but new writers might start to panic a little.  How are they supposed to spend a year writing a novel when they’re not quite sure how to even start?

For example, Mosley strongly recommends writers put time aside every day to write.  Simple enough advice, right?  Then he goes on to say that this daily time shouldn’t be shorter than an hour-and-a-half.

As a mother and a wife, I don’t have 90 minutes in a single stretch every day to write.  I do write almost every day, but I often do it in shorter spurts.  Does that make me a less committed writer?  Does that mean I won’t finish a novel in a year?  Will I never see my name on the spine of a book?

I don’t know.  But it’s disheartening to think that Mosley implies that if I don’t spend 90 minutes a day writing, I’m not a serious writer.  Newbie writers might think just that, however.

Just below the 90-minutes-a-day advice, Mosley acknowledges the life challenges and responsibilities many of us balance with our writing: no personal writing space; having a full-time job; children.  And then he gives what to me felt like the most disappointing statement of the entire book.

“I wish I had the answers to these problems.  I don’t.  All I can tell you is that if you want to finish your novel this year, you have to write each and every day.”

Granted, some people might see this as a push in the right direction.  But I feel like Mosley really lets writers down with this paragraph.  For a book that purports to share with writers the tools to help them finish their novels in a year, these ambiguous words don’t really provide writers with any of those tools.  When I read it, in fact, to me it almost felt like Mosley was shrugging his shoulders and saying, “Deal with it, writers.”

I also feel like Mosley spent too much time tackling writing basics: the difference between first person and third person; metaphors and similes; and character development.  All of these elements and more take up 48 pages out of a book that has only 102.  While they’re important for writing, I came to this book for tools and strategies to write a novel in a year and not for a fiction tutorial.  I’ve encountered these several times now in the other books, and any writer serious about the craft will seek out these types of tutorials in greater depth in other books and venues.

The book, I feel, gives writers a cursory introduction to writing and then some suggestions for completing a novel in the time specified.  I would have liked to see more concrete ideas, so I don’t think I would recommend This Year You Write Your Novel for most writers.  But it’s nice to receive a little nudge in that direction.

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