How To Write Your First Novel – Sophie King [Books]

how to write your first novelI am a big lover of writing craft books. I read a lot of them, and I read a variety. Many have interesting tips, great advice, and can be written really well. Unfortunately, How to Write Your First Novel is not one of them.

This book is for absolute, complete beginners. The problem, I think, is assuming people know absolutely nothing about writing when coming to this book. I honestly think by the time someone picks up a book about the craft, they know something. They know the elements of a story, perhaps, or have written some short stories. Which then makes a lot of the ideas raised in this book a little bit obsolete.

As well as that, this book was published in 2014. It is beyond the author’s control, but it means a lot of information contained within is now outdated. But it is still being promoted alongside the fantastic Writing Magazine in the UK, given as a gift to subscribers (that’s how I got my copy), so perhaps it is time to do a revised updated version.

One thing I’ve definitely found I dislike in writing advice books: writers who only use their own works as examples. And King does it here a lot. It’s not in a “here’s an idea of how you can do this” way either, or “this works for me maybe it’ll work for you”, it’s essentially putting herself as the expert, showcasing extracts of her work as perfect examples.

They’re not bad as such, but they’re not really as good as the author seems to think they are. And as another sign of an aging book, some of the extracts (and, apparently, the author’s novels themselves) are pretty ableist.

There are so many fantastic how to write novel books out there, or general how to write, or genre specific books, and this one really doesn’t add anything to the discussion. If you’re looking for ways to improve your writing, I would suggest picking up On Writing by Stephen King, Damn Fine Story by Chuck Wendig, or one of the first writing books I ever read, How NOT to Write a Novel, by Howard Mittelmark. The information in How to Write Your First Novel is too basic to really be of interest, the publishing advice is by now outdated, and the extracts are at times uncomfortable, making it feel like the author is patting themselves on the back.

I’ll always suggest reading books about the craft of writing, but I wouldn’t suggest reading this one.

Happy Writing – Jenny Alexander [Books]

happy writingI’m a big fan of most (writing) books. I enjoy reading them, I enjoy taking notes on them, and I enjoy glancing back over those notes. A lot of times, these books spark off new ideas, or help me find a way forward on a particularly tricky aspect I’ve come up against. They’ve given me tips not just on writing, but editing too. I think, in many ways, studying these sort of books has definitely helped me become a better writer, and if I think it’s beneficial, I often recommend some to other writers when I give feedback through my beta-reading service.

Maybe it’s because I’ve read so many, or because I’ve been writing for so long, but I didn’t really feel this book added much to the whole conversation.

I definitely think this is a good book to consider if you are starting out with writing, or haven’t really spent much time ‘studying’ the craft as such. There are good tips here, and the glimpses into the writer’s own personal journey are interesting to a point, but overall, I didn’t really come out of this feeling like I’d learnt anything new.

The tips in this book are mainly geared towards helping writers get over the things that might block them, giving advice for what to do when one feels stuck at various stages of a project. The tips are good and interesting, but again, they’re very much ones I’ve read/heard before, and I found myself sort of skimming over most of them.

The best parts about this book were, for me, the extracts from writers about their own struggles, including Alexander’s. They added a really nice touch the whole thing, and it definitely helps to remember that no matter what stage of the ladder you’re on, every writer faces similar struggles.

I recommend this if you’re stuck with your writing, if you haven’t really read much about the craft before, or are considering delving into the world of writing and wondering if you should take that leap.