Eight Weeks to a Complete Novel by Becky Clark

I admit, the title of Clark’s book made me curious. Why eight weeks? Why not four, or six, or twelve? It turns out that there’s nothing magical—or even particularly interesting—about the eight week timeframe. Clark recommends you write your novel in a month (just like NaNoWriMo) with a week on the front end for outlining and three weeks on the back end for revisions. This is a timeframe that Clark herself adopted on the advice of her agent, and it seems to work very well for her. But EIGHT WEEKS TO A COMPLETE NOVEL is descriptive rather than instructive, basically saying, “here is what I do, now you do you.”

Clark insists that writers must use outlines, and the first half of the book is an exhaustive list of outline styles. Clark does a good job of defining these different styles, but doesn’t teach authors how to use any of them, nor how to pick the best one. She freely shares her own opinion on them, though. She likes the Blake Snyder Beat Sheet and doesn’t care for the Hero’s Journey. But what good does it do an aspiring writer to know that?

The second half of the book is about time management. It’s all stuff we’ve heard before: minimize distractions, keep track of daily work count, be consistent, try sprints, don’t edit as you go, set boundaries, etc. etc. I kept hoping for one gem to take away, some new idea that would be useful for a writer, but it was well-worn advice that all writers already know. Even Clark’s metaphors were ones we’ve seen hundreds of times. (An outline is a roadmap for your story’s journey…)

Throughout, Clark is eager to share what works for her, even reproducing her daily schedule on the page. Readers learn what time Clark gets up, how often she exercises, and that Wednesday is her day off. We learn how often she checks Facebook and how many writing sprints she does in a day. But having an example—even one as seemingly perfect as Clark—doesn’t help an aspiring writer set her own schedule around her own circumstances. Clark has neither a full-time job nor children at home, but she gives no consideration to those who do.

Read EIGHT WEEKS TO A COMPLETE NOVEL if you’re curious about how one author writes her books, but not if you’re looking for instruction for writing your own.

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EIGHT WEEKS TO A COMPLETE NOVEL can be found here

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Rating: 2 stars

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I recommend Writing Fiction for All You’re Worth by James Scott Bell or How to Be an Artist by JoAnneh Nagler instead of this book.

Intuitive Editing by Tiffany Yates Martin

INTUITIVE EDITING is a frustrating book. Yates has extensive experience as an editor, both freelance and working for big publishing houses. And she has excellent advice for authors who want to polish their novels before handing them over to a professional editor. However, everything is over-explained, every point belabored, and it’s all weighed down with so many examples that the good advice gets lost. Ironically, this book on editing could have used an editor.

I liked Yates’ approach a lot. She starts with the biggest issues and works her way to ever smaller ones. This is the way I edit, and when I teach classes on editing, this is what I teach. Start by making sure the characterization, plot, and stakes are all in place. Then come medium-sized issues like point of view consistency, pacing, and voice. The final stage is smaller things, for example, removing crutch words and streamlining descriptions.

However, Yates exhaustively explains even the most simple concepts. For example, she devotes many pages to the difference between first and third person stories. Every writer learned this in middle school, and we don’t need it taught again. Even while addressing more complex topics such as point of view or suspense, Yates throws in example after example until the original point is lost. It feels like someone nudging you in the ribs saying, “Get it? Get it?” Yates is on more solid ground when using examples from real novels rather than hypothetical ones she made up, but each time a point is made, she happily uses three or more examples when one would do.

Even worse, very little of INTUITIVE EDITING will be useful for an author with a completed manuscript. Yates seems to want to teach authors how to write a novel rather than how to revise one. She gives vague handwaving toward the difficult job of finding a novel’s problems. However, very few beginning authors have the objectivity to look at an example, figure out how it applies to her own work, and then go back and edit accordingly. And when an author does have the objectivity to do so, her skills have progressed to the point where she no longer needs this book.

And that’s what makes this book frustrating. There are many valuable lessons here. INTUITIVE EDITING is like a short writing course taught by a good professor. However, the time to apply these lessons is in the planning or first draft stage, because the lessons are too general to apply to a completed manuscript. An author would be better served by taking the very good writing lessons in INTUITIVE EDITING and applying them to her next book.

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INTUITIVE EDITING can be found here

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Rating: 3 stars

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This book is best for: beginning writers

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I recommend this book or The Anatomy of Prose by Sacha Black or Writing for Emotional Impact by Karl Iglesias

Resilience by Mark McGuinness

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I really need to stop picking up books by therapists who want to “help” artists. There is nothing wrong with creative people seeking therapy. The problem comes when the therapists then generalize to the population at large, thinking all artists are suffering, and that the pursuit of an art career itself is making these poor lambs suffer. But no worries, the therapist has written a book! It’s something you can hold up as a shield when you explain to others how “difficult” the writing life is and how “heroic” you are for enduring it.

RESILIENCE is material pulled from McGuinness’ blog, and perhaps in blog form the posts weren’t so irksome. They are, however, overly simplistic. McGuinness’ advice isn’t unreasonable. He explains why rejection and criticism hurt, why it isn’t personal, and he has some decent tips for sorting out useful feedback from useless attacks. He advises artists to find their tribe, find good mentors, and keep pushing.

But there isn’t anything new here, and dozens of other authors have said it better. Tone matters a lot with this kind of book. Telling a writer that writing and publishing are hard but achievable will inspire her. Telling a writer how pitiful she is, how terrible writing and publishing are, and expecting her to be miserable, will only hold her back.

Each chapter ends with exercises. These are also fine, although they basically boil down to remembering why you love your craft, knowing you’re not alone, and not taking it personally. This is basic common sense stuff that writers already know.

It is true that rejections sting and that bad reviews suck and that it’s hard to show your work to other people for the first time. It’s also true that we self-sabotage in numerous ways because we’re human beings and human beings do that. However, the love of writing and the desire to improve our craft is usually enough to get us over these hurdles. Moreover, these problems aren’t something we solve once and then we’re done with them forever. They are part and parcel of the writing life. Thinking about how to become more resilient in the face of rejection doesn’t work. Only by doing, by getting knocked down and getting up again, will an author become stronger.

The best how-to books are written by writers who practice their craft every day. We can learn a lot from authors who enjoy their work and want others to enjoy it too.

Therapists who want to share misery while giving shallow advice can’t teach us anything that we don’t already know.

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Resilience can be found here

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Rating: 2 stars

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I recommend A Writer’s Guide to Persistence by Jordan Rosenfeld or Pep Talks for Writers by Grant Faulkner instead of this book.

Write Your Book in a Flash by Dan Janal

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WRITE YOUR BOOK IN A FLASH is a how-to book for nonfiction writers, mainly businesspeople who want to write a book. Janal starts with the assumption that his audience has never written a book before and probably never will again. They aren’t writers, they just need a book as a credential, a calling card, or an add-on to public speaking gigs. Therefore, Janal starts with the very basics of nonfiction book creation, taking a paint-by-numbers approach of starting with the outline and filling it in little by little.

Janal’s approach is solid. To a non-writer, attempting to write forty thousand words of prose is daunting. Organizing all that research can seem impossible. Where do the quotes go? How about the personal stories? What should I leave out? What structure do I use?

Janal also understands that nonfiction books aren’t literature. They are tools to help solve a problem. He wants his readers to get the words on the page in any way possible, let hired editors clean up the mess, and start using the book to help boost their businesses.

To that end, Janal recommends that you start with a 400 word executive summary, research the market to see where your book fits and then make a ten-chapter outline (introduction, eight chapters of content, conclusion). This isn’t new to anyone who has been writing awhile—or has other nonfiction books to use as models—but it’s still useful advice.

Janal also provides ample cheerleading, sensing that this is what his audience wants most, and he includes information on beta readers and what formatting to use once the book is complete. And if it all sounds just too difficult, Janal himself is ready to step in as the ghost writer or book coach you might need.

WRITE YOUR BOOK IN A FLASH is the non-writer’s how-to book. It’s the perfect guide if you’ve never written before, don’t like writing now, and will never write again.

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WRITE YOUR BOOK IN A FLASH can be found here.

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Rating: 3 stars

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This book is best for: beginning writers

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I recommend this book or Help for Writers by Roy Peter Clark 

Blake’s Blogs by Blake Snyder

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I am a huge fan of SAVE THE CAT. I read it when it came out in 2005, and it changed my life. I talk about Snyder’s method constantly, and recommend his books whenever I have a chance.

Blake Snyder died just four years after SAVE THE CAT was published, and writers have been mourning ever since. So you can imagine my delight when I came across BLAKE’S BLOGS, a book of what his estate considers his best blog posts. But my delight soon turned to disappointment when I realized that this slim volume was really just a cash grab, one last chance for Snyder’s heirs to turn his writing into money.

The posts aren’t bad, but they are ten years old and most of them haven’t aged well. The beauty of a blog is that is captures what a writer is thinking about in that very moment. So there are posts about movies Snyder had recently seen, classes he’d been teaching, and his thoughts on the Oscar nominees of 2008. He rehashes some of what’s in his classic instruction book, but he doesn’t go deeper or come up with fresh insights. While it’s nice to have the blog posts arranged in chapters, the division is rather artificial and makes it seem like an instruction book when it’s really just a book of musings.

I’d like to say that BLAKE’S BLOGS is for the die-hard Snyder fan only, but I’m the biggest Snyder fangirl of them all, and even I didn’t like this book. In the end, BLAKE’S BLOGS made me sad. I wished this book could be better than it was, I mourned a talented teacher who died way too young, and I was embarrassed for Snyder’s relatives who put this product into the world.

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BLAKE’S BLOGS can be found here.

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Rating: 2 stars

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I recommend Save the Cat by Blake Snyder instead of this book.