A Novel in a Year by Louise Doughty

There are a lot of books like this one. Some are complete guides to novel writing, sharing useful advice every step of the way. Some are mere gimmicks. A NOVEL IN A YEAR falls into the latter category. In the mid 2000’s, Doughty wrote a weekly column for England’s Daily Telegraph newspaper. Her column dispensed writing advice and suggested exercises on alternate weeks. Readers were encouraged to send their completed exercises to Doughty via the newspaper’s website. This book is a collection of those weekly columns.

The idea is that after writing small exercises every other week, a beginning writer will be fully-equipped to attempt a novel. In fact, for the first six months, a writer is only to do the exercises (some as short as a single sentence). All the serious novel writing comes in the second half of the year.

There is no way anyone could follow this plan and finish a novel in a year (six months, really), especially if they’ve never written before. Even if a writer followed Doughty’s plan exactly, the twenty-six exercises would only add up to a few dozen pages of work. None of the writing exercises are even meant to fit into the novel-in-progress. They are the standard sort of warm-up exercises that creative writing teachers love to give students. I kept turning the book over and over in my hands, wondering if maybe I misinterpreted the title. But the blurb on the back of the book, as well as the endorsements from professional writers, clearly state that this book is meant to be a roadmap to a novel in a year.

There are a few good bits here and there, such as Doughty’s insistence that writers must first be good readers, or her tips on making time to write. However, that kind of advice can be found in a hundred other how-to books. Doughty is much more engaging when she’s being a cheerleader, showcasing good examples sent to The Daily Telegraph’s website.

Perhaps this book (and the original newspaper column) was simply a way to get people interested in writing, or perhaps to make them feel like writers. Nothing wrong with that. Writing is fun and many people enjoy doing it. Encouraging people to write is wonderful. What’s not so wonderful is pretending you’re giving instruction when you’re only giving encouragement. The two are not the same thing.

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rating: 2 stars

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I recommend Writing the Novel from Plot to Print by Lawrence Block or Word Work by Bruce Holland Rogers instead of this book.

2 thoughts on “A Novel in a Year by Louise Doughty

  1. So glad you read these books so I don’t have to. 🙂 Frankly, I’ve had my fill of how-to-write books. Most of them, these days, aren’t even written by professional writers.

    • Thank you, Rob.

      There are a ton of how-to books out there, and the quality varies so much. I try to separate the few great books from the vast majority of ho-hum offerings.

      And just when I’m ready to completely give up on how-to books, something great like SAVE THE CAT by Blake Snyder comes along and blows my mind. I hope to find more books like that in the future!

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