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179 Ways to Save a Novel: Matters of Vital Concern to Fiction Writers Paperback – April 21, 2010

4.7 out of 5 stars 10 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


Peter Selgin's 179 WAYS TO SAVE A NOVEL is brimming with sage and inspiring advice. Selgin writes about the craft of the novel with terrific lucidity, insight, and wit and his latest is a book that all aspiring novelists should have on their shelves. --Laura van den Berg, author of WHAT THE WORLD WILL LOOK LIKE WHEN ALL THE WATER LEAVES US

Bravo to Peter Selgin for a wise and valuable guide! Selgin's masterful meditations provide the tools, knowledge and incentive to write meaningful fiction. A beautiful, supportive book, 179 WAYS TO SAVE A NOVEL belongs on every serious fiction-writer's desktop. --Mary E. Mitchell, author of Indie Next Great Read novel, AMERICANS IN SPACE

Randall Jarrell said that a novel is a prose narrative of some length that has something wrong with it. What Peter Selgin knows--and abundantly illustrates--is that we can learn from went wrong, and learning from our mistakes and from the mistakes of others is the premise of his wise and witty meditation on writing, a book that is as practical as it is provocative. What Peter Selgin talks about when he talks about writing is what every aspiring novelist needs to hear. He offers generous insights, frank talk, and ample encouragement. 179 WAYS TO SAVE A NOVEL is all the inspiration and guidance you'll need to get your novel started, and more importantly, to get it finished. --John Dufresne, author of LOUISIANA POWER & LIGHT, DEEP IN THE SHADE OF PARADISE, REQUIEM , MASS., and others

About the Author

Peter Selgin is the author of By Cunning & Craft (Writer's Digest, 2007). His stories and essays have appeared in more than 50 publications including Salon.com, Glimmer Train, Boulevard, Poets & Writers and Missouri Review. His story collection, Drowning Lessons, was a winner of the Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction.


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Writer's Digest Books (April 21, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1582976074
  • ISBN-13: 978-1582976075
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.9 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,316,604 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Peter Selgin won the 2007 Flannery O'Connor Award for Fiction (Drowning Lessons, UGA Press, 2008), and the Pirate's Alley Faulkner Society Prize for Best Novel-in-Manuscript (The Water Master). His first novel, Life Goes to the Movies, was a finalist for the James Jones First Novel Fellowship and the AWP Award for the Novel, and was named one of the Best Books of 2009 by ForeWord Magazine.

His most recent book, Confessions of a Left-Handed Man: An Artist's Memoir, was published by the University of Iowa Press/Sightline Books. He is also the author of two books on writing craft, By Cunning & Craft: Practical Wisdom for Fiction Writers, and 179 Ways to Save a Novel: Matters of Vital Concern to Fiction Writers (both from Writers Digest Books), as well as several books for children. He is a faculty member of Antioch University's MFA writing program and Associate Professor of Creative Writing at Georgia College & State University, where he teaches in their MFA Program.

Before turning full-time to writing, Peter earned his living as a visual artist and illustrator, with work appearing in The New Yorker, Gourmet, The Wall Street Journal, Outside, Fine Gardening, and other magazines. His paintings of the Titanic were the subject of articles in the Wall Street Journal and on NPR and Fox's Good Morning, America. His plays, including A God in the House, based on Dr. Kevorkian and his suicide machine, have won national competitions. He was a three-time finalist for the Eugene O'Neill National Playwright's Conference, where A God in the House had its world premiere.

Peter's hobbies include swimming in all seasons in almost any body of water (lakes being preferable), and writing or sketching at sunny outdoor cafe tables (preferable in Venice or on the Mediterranean coast).

Website: http://www.peterselgin.com

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Peter Selgin's book of sage advice for writers is engaging, humorous, inspiring, and filled with helpful tips to improve one's prose whether fiction or autobiographical nonfiction. It's written in an unvarnished, down-to-earth style that suggests he's talking to a friend over a warm cup of mint tea. The tone is inviting yet instructive at the same time. Readers sense that Selgin is speaking from experiences, some harsh, and he's trying to save writers from mistakes he's made. One example is a lesson learned from a writing workshop encounter in which Frank Conroy literally tossed Selgin's manuscript to the floor to show his disdain for a word that called attention to the writing.

A particularly useful meditation on slicing one's prose to the bare essentials comes in the form of a challenge to trim a 9000 word story to 6000 in order to fit the guidelines for the "New Yorker." The magazine pays two dollars a word, so would we be able to shorten the story? If the answer is "Yes!" then why couldn't we do that with all our writing?

Selgin pulls from his background as an editor of a literary magazine to present some submission gems: "Sarah loved the windy path that wound down to the swimming rock, and the feel of soft needles under her feet as she ran down it." "Toby swallowed the three pills that looked like bits of colored chalk." "I was never not mostly afraid." He explains why each excerpt works.

Selgin also provides humor in giving readers some of his favorite "dead similes": "Her eyes were like two brown circles with big black dots in the center." "The hailstones leaped from the street like maggots when fried in hot grease." "He was as tall as a 6' 3" tree." "The little boat gently drifted across the pond exactly the way a bowling ball wouldn't.
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Format: Paperback
One has to be very careful with writing books. Not unlike dieting and self-help books, books on writing have a certain niche market, and when we're talking about marketing often books are aimed to sell, not to educate.

And we've all heard "those who can't teach" it seems many writing books are written by authors with mediocre (or no) success.

My only words are advice are look for books written by editors rather than writers as editors actually know what they're talking about, to be fair there are many exceptions to this advice such as 179 Ways to Save Your Novel.

Written in blog format we are taught 179 lessons ranging from point of view, to symbolism. Selgin ideals are more towards the literary angle, he doesn't like bestsellers and doesn't think that genre fiction is worth looking at. However, even if you are aiming for the New York Times, this book is still worth it. The advice is solid, and presented with a unique scathing humour.

The chapter on character is probably the most useful and other titbits I found indispensible were about tense and (not using) purple prose.

179 Ways doesn't quite have the lampooning humour of How Not to Write a Novel or Stein's intuitive way of communicating information, but is a worthwhile read for anyone determined to write and probably must-read for most bestselling authors.
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Peter Selgin's new book is a perfect companion volume to his "By Cunning & Craft." Selgin is a dream teacher---witty, wise, and practical---and his advice is delightful. But you don't necessarily have to be a writer to enjoy this new volume. If you are, his advice will improve your own approach to novel writing, and if you aren't this well-written, well-designed book will still entertain and enlighten (and it might convince you to take up your pen). I have often used Peter's "By Cunning and Craft" in my own teaching; I will use this new book too and I will certainly include it on my list of "must haves" for fiction (and non-fiction) writers.
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Selgin knows his stuff and pulls no punches. Having read his novel and several of his short stories, as well as his other book about writing -- By Cunning and Craft -- I was eager to read this book also. Though I loved Cunning, I found 179 Ways easier to put into practical use from the first few pages. It has become my writing bible of sorts, to the point where the book is falling apart. When I purchased this book, I had already written two first drafts of novels and was happy with neither. After I was about a third of the way through 179 Ways, I was ready to give up writing all together. (This guy knew me too well! Clearly he had hacked into my computer and read by horrible writing!) By the time I was finished reading, I was ready to get down to the hard work -- a) admitting that my first novel attempt completely sucked and needed to be trashed, and b) getting cracking on doing some major repairs to save my second project. This guy is brutally honest, and honesty isn't always easy to accept. But sometimes, the kind of truth that hurts is exactly what's needed. If you're seriously committed to learning to write well, I recommend this book wholeheartedly.
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I received my copy of this today and immediately sat down to thumb through and read. This book is as helpful, straight-forward, and enlightening as By Cunning and Craft. Selgin's crafted another winner full of sound advice, spoken like a teacher who's just sat down to have coffee with you, superb examples to illustrate his points, and the honest truths every serious writer needs to absorb. It is the sort of book to appeal to novices willing to learn and seasoned writers who can share a secret smile over Selgin's candor. I'll be recommending this book to fellow writers and my students, to my critique group members, and even my editing customers. Like King's On Writing and Selgin's Cunning and Craft, this book should be a dog-eared favorite on every writer's shelf.
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