the Complete Handbook of Novel Writing

This book has soup spilled on it, sand between the covers, sprinkles of rain, and a lovely pattern of (my) dirty fingerprints along the edges. Clearly, it is a good book. Unfortunately, it’s also a library book.

So, I ordered another copy to return to the library.

But then, our Carteret Writers group hosted a book exchange Christmas party (it was loads of fun – I got a book of Christmas Stories by North Carolina Writers that I’ll start next). The book I ordered online to give, the fabulous A Historian’s Coast by David Cecelski, didn’t come in time, so the lucky gift recipient got the Complete Handbook of Novel Writing instead. I think she’ll enjoy it.

The value in this book is that each chapter is written by a different author, sharing their expertise on character development, showing not telling, romance writing, publishing, and all other facets of writing. You name it; it’s here.

I often think of writing as a perfect-or-nothing enterprise, but if there’s one thing this book taught me, it’s that bad writing can lead to good writing, that any writing is progress, and that it can take hours (days, years) of trying, re-writing, scrapping 100 pages, changing your point-of-view, giving up, re-starting, and just plain work to get a story finished. Some of that process happens in your head, but a lot more of it has to happen on the page.

Elizabeth George sums it up with “I wish I had known back then that a mastery of process would lead to a product. Then I probably wouldn’t have found it so frightening to write.”

That was the overarching theme of this book – persevere. Don’t give up. Put in the work and time. And if you love it, that will bring you joy (and perhaps even a paycheck).

And since, as Elizabeth George also says, “Only when I write do I feel whole and at peace,” it’s worth the missteps, go-nowhere stories, rejections, and learning process, if it means getting to do what you love.

Or, in the words of Chuck Palahniuk, “Do you use the writing process as your ongoing excuse to keep exploring the world, meeting people and learning things? If you can do that, then the writing itself will be its own payoff and reward.”

Writing is fun. Writers are fun. The things we write about interest us and teach us. How wonderful.

Most importantly, it showed me how other writers write – not in one smooth, well-organized flash of glory, but in tedious re-writes, uncertainty – one step forward, two steps back. They all do that, and yet they all do it differently. There is no one right way.

And THAT was inspiring.

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