A Novel in a Year
If 2009 is the year you are determined to finally write a novel, A Novel in a Year is the perfect companion. Based on the popular newspaper column by British writer Louise Doughty, it covers everything a would-be novelist needs to know, from getting started to finding ideas to editing and organizing that unruly pile of draft pages.
Doughty has plenty of knowledge and experience to share. Her published writings include five novels and several radio plays as well as journalism, including the columns from which this book is derived. Doughty’s method was to alternate writing assignments with discussion of the results (posted on the newspaper’s website) for the first part of the year. Later, she goes more deeply into craft issues, but keeps things lively and interactive by using her real-life students, consisting of anybody who read her column and chose to participate. All of the exercises as well as some of the student responses are included in the book.
A Novel in a Year is more than a motivational textbook for writers determined to finally get down to serious business of writing a novel. It’s also full of burning writerly questions like what makes us so passionately stuck on words. Why do we love them so? Where do all our theories about writing come from? Which ones are solid, which are debatable, and which are nonsense? Here’s her new slant on an old debate: should a writer read books by other writers while they’re writing?
I’ve heard this one answered both ways. The main argument for NOT reading others while writing is fear of losing your own voice and sounding like whoever you’re reading for pleasure. But for me, and Doughty too, givng up reading books to write them is a torture I cannot endure. I have to read every day and usually have two or three books going at once. I also devour magazines like a madwoman. If I had to choose between writing and reading, well, I couldn’t.
Here are Doughty’s thoughts on the subject: “To not read when you are writing seems as odd as refusing to listen to any French when you are trying to learn it. Do athletes not watch anyone else running while they are training? Do surgeons say ‘I think it’s best to ignore any new medical developments while I’m practicing myself?’ ”
All kinds of funny and gossipy tidbits like that ribbon through the book like delicious writer candy. Then there are the more thoughtful discoveries. About half of the people who Doughty trained with in graduate school, her professor Malcolm Bradbury warned, would find out at the end of the course that they were “not really writers.” Doughty herself wondered if she would ever succeed. She admits to many failures and to despairing of ever being able to write for a living. The proof that she was able to prevail against all odds is in the book. Inspiring stuff for would-be novelists.