And Now, More Craft Books

Sorry, broken record. But my weekly dispatch is another craft book, while I’m on the subject. Perhaps because this is what I find myself reading, partly because I can’t seem to make myself finish Fellow Travellers, the adaption of which is an excellent and uneven miniseries which I almost wholeheartedly recommend while finding the source material baffling. The target audience appears to be conservative gay men who know everything (like, really everything) about the McCarthy hearings and various obscure nineteen-fifties Washington trivia. Who knew that was a group at which to aim a novel? Who knew you could write a novel with so many characters named Tim, Tommy, Johnny or Jack?

But I digress.

To recommend: Refuse to Be Done: how to write and rewrite a novel in three drafts by Matt Bell

This book was recommended to me by a writer friend I trust. After reading it, I bought myself a copy and immediately recommended it to everyone I knew who was remotely interested in writing. This book is magic. Not in that schematic, here are the brilliant paint-by-numbers steps I have followed resulting in an award winning screenplay way, but full of patient, interesting, exciting, useful advice. At first I was skeptical because some of the advice is obvious, until I realized I was being cynical, and that Bell, who is a literary writer who uses genre elements in his work, was purposefully writing a book that could (insofar as this is possible) work for everyone, from an experienced writer to someone just beginning to write. Further, reading it made me realize that dismissing what is obvious can itself be a fault: it’s the obvious stuff that gets missed.

The other thing that makes this book deeply useful (I will probably reread it every year) is how broad his frame of reference is, and how much he insists (as any decent teacher of writing will tell you) that to be a writer, you must be a reader. And (this is the important thing) not just of what you admire and want to emulate. If you love fantasy, read fantasy, but also read literary fiction. Read poetry to understand the tension of a line, which is just as important in prose. Read work in translation. Whatever your comfort zone is, read outside it.

And then write.