- Paperback: 265 pages
- Publisher: Harper Perennial (December 30, 2008)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0061686387
- ISBN-13: 978-0061686382
- Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.6 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,572,365 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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A Novel in a Year: From First Page to Last in 52 Weeks
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About the Author
Louise Doughty is the author of the novels Crazy Paving, Dance with Me, Honey-Dew, Fires in the Dark, and Stone Cradle, as well as the nonfiction book A Novel in a Year, based on her popular newspaper column. She has written plays for radio and has worked widely as a critic, broadcasting regularly for BBC Radio 4. She lives in London.
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Top Customer Reviews
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.
Anyway, leaving my chagrin aside, I began to read. The bones of the book are a series of exercises - 26 in all, one per fortnight. The intervening chapters contain advice from the author on the topic being covered, anecdotes from her own writing life and examples of the results of the exercises, selected from the many posted throughout 2006 to message boards (still viewable) on the website.
Exercises 1-8 are `idea-generating' and aim at simply assembling some material to work with. The writing subjects are unrelated to each other so you may end up with a random assemblage. The theory is that this should help you figure out roughly what you want to write about.
Exercise 9 asks you to summarise succinctly the plot of your novel.
Doughty then tells you to clear the decks for a ten-week intensive writing onslaught centred, in exercises 10-15, weeks 20 to 30, on your main character. You write a CV for her, create scenes where she is under stress, show what she wants from life and how she overcomes obstacles. I felt that this was the most focussed part of the book. It's also familiar territory if you've read these kinds of books before.
The later exercises cover technique. At this point, the author's sense of direction seemed to waver. `Some of the exercises that follow may prompt you to write episodes of your novel but it is important that you are also working on your book independently of the exercises...' she says. I found that rather confusing.
Doughty calls her own approach `disorganised' and `oblique'. If you dislike the idea of meticulous outlines or lengthy lists of character attributes you might find her approach refreshing. `Often, the only way to discover what happens next is to start writing and see what comes' she says.
For me, only time will tell whether this book will be useful in my quest to Finally Sit Down And Write the Novel. In the meantime I'll award it four stars and the benefit of the doubt. I also own `the Weekend Novelist' by Robert J. Ray, which also uses the time-frame of a year but takes a much more meticulously structured approach. I'm hoping the two together may be a winning combination.