Read these four books, then go write an awesome novel
I am super excited about National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) this November. I don’t think I can participate because I’ve been doing NaNoWriLIFE for the past five years, but I’m all fired up about the idea of you participating.
I felt God nudging me to write this post, like he was saying, “There is someone out there who needs to write a book. I gave them this great idea for a story, and they keep talking themselves out of putting it down on paper. They read your blog due to an unfortunate lost bet situation, so please do a post about NaNoWriMo and I’ll use it as a sign to them to finally write this book.” (God uses “their” as a gender-neutral singular pronoun, because that’s how it was supposed to be in his original plan.)
So if you have ever thought about writing a novel or a memoir, I strongly encourage you to do it this November! No, you probably won’t be able to get a flawless, ready-to-publish manuscript completed in a month, but you will be able to cover the canvass, and that’s what matters most.
We have a month until the start date, which gives you some time to sharpen your tools. I’ve read pretty much every writing book in existence, and I put all of that advice to the test while writing my memoir (a genre which, in terms of form, is very similar to fiction). Below are the four books that I found to be most helpful. Whether you’re going to jump into NaNoWriMo or write your book at another time, I cannot encourage you strongly enough to read each of these books.
Hot off the presses, this new book from bestselling author Steven Pressfield is a gem. It’s a cross between a memoir and a how-to manual in which he walks the reader through the process of writing his first novel, The Legend of Bagger Vance. There is great stuff here on all levels: insights into how a legendary author puts a book together, as well as fascinating behind-the-scenes tidbits from the industry (he had to pay his own airfare to the premier of the movie!)
Please listen to me when I say this: if you read the section called Finding the Theme, on pages 47 – 49 of the current paperback version, you will have more than gotten your money’s worth out of this book. Honestly, you will have received more wisdom than is contained in shelves full of other books on writing. All great writers understand theme on a gut level, but Pressfield is one of the few who can articulate what it is, why it matters, and how you can find it in your own work.
If you write any kind of stories at all — including blog posts, Facebook updates, or Christmas card letters — you will find that this book takes your prose to a whole new level. Author Rebecca McClanahan teaches us how to get the images in our imaginations down on paper in a way that it will resonate as deeply for the reader as it does for us, and she offers lots of examples from well-known books so that we can see the concepts in action.
If I could only recommend one book for writers of all genres to read, it would be this one.
Story is an objective concept. If I run up to you and say, “I have the best story for you: yesterday, I got in my car!” you’d have an intuitive sense that that is not a story.
Larry Brooks has done the world a favor by taking a look at the great stories of history and articulating what structural elements they all have in common. He then names each of these elements, and helps authors understand what they are and how they function in a book. He analogizes it to being like learning to draw a face: all faces have certain elements in common (two eyes, a nose, a mouth). Within that framework there are infinite possibilities for artistic expression, but you need to understand the basic components in order to be a master of face-drawing.
I would note that this book is just as important for memoir as it is for fiction. If you feel moved to record a real-life story, knowing the elements of story engineering will help you unearth the clearest narrative from your jumble of memories.
(The only circumstance under which I’d recommend skipping this book is if you plan to write a swashbuckling saga like The Long Ships, since sagas have different story engineering principles.)
(If you’re going to write a swashbuckling saga like The Long Ships, you are made of win.)
4. 2K to 10K
The subtitle of this book is “Writing Faster, Writing Better, and Writing More of What You Love,” and it delivers on its promises. Successful novelist Rachel Aaron shares her secrets for how she took her own writing output from 2,000 to 10,000 words per day, without a decrease in quality. I read the book in less than an hour, and I tried out her suggestions during my next writing time. I was astonished to see that I was able to quadruple my output, and it was some of my best work. This book has the best “time spent reading it”-to-“amount it improved my life” ratio of anything I’ve ever read.
. . .
I spent a long time thinking about which books to include on this list, and I’m confident that you’ll be thrilled with all of them. If you plan to participate in NaNoWriMo, you should have plenty of time to read all of them by November. (And if you need further inspiration, here is a list of a few NaNoWriMo novels that ended up getting published.)
If you’ve ever thought about writing a novel or memoir, I’d love to hear about it. What is it about? What inspires you about this story?