This Year You Write Your Novel
by Walter Mosley
Published by Little, Brown and Company
112 pages, 2007
Write Your Novel. Now.
Reviewed by Linda L. Richards
The first time you write a novel, you're learning how to do it. The trouble (challenge?) is that everyone's path to a finished novel is different. So you can't just read a book or six. You can't just read a manual. I mean, you can, but any answers you find there will have to be tailored to you and your methods. The methods you don't know yet. The methods you're just now learning about.
The thing I'm talking about is not just putting a lot of words on paper. Anyone can do that. It's spending a lot of time with your ass pressed firmly into a chair and eventually stepping forth lightly with a complete story; a story that makes its own sense and, when read by others, will call forth a caring response of some order.
Of course, not everyone who's ever wanted to write a novel has actually pulled it off. I'm fairly certain I know why this is so: it's really, really hard work. And never mind the intricate crafting required to pull off the plotting demanded by today's sophisticated reader. Just the basics can seem very daunting. You get the bum in the chair and then the vastness of your task can engulf you. The world you need to create. The people you need to bring to life. The narrative voice you need to choose and establish. The research you need to do. You not only have to show and not tell, you have to figure out what that means. With all of that in mind, it's a wonder any first novels get written at all.
And then along comes Walter Mosley with a bright orange -- yet elegant -- little book called This Year You Write Your Novel. On first contact, you just know that this is a book that's been written for the ages; for the generations. One of those instant classics confused young writers will be picking up 50 years from now in order to reduce the furrows in their brows. Because Mosley takes that which appears very difficult and reduces it to the point of understanding and simplicity. And because he is Walter Mosley and not Joe Schmo, he does this with a beauty and elegance beyond what is required. Honestly, I could just read This Year Your Write Your Novel all day for the lovely way Mosley approaches language and for the truths peppered throughout this little text.
Our social moorings aren't the only things that restrain our creative impulses. We are also limited by false aesthetics: those notions that we have developed in schools and libraries, and from listening to critics that adhere to some misplaced notion of a literary canon.
But there's more than beauty here. If you or someone you know wants to write a novel -- really wants to write a novel -- I'm fairly certain that this book will help them get there. "I don't promise a masterpiece," Mosley warns in his introduction, "just a durable first novel of a certain length," and later in the introduction he underlines this point. "I can't promise you worldly success, but I can say that if you follow the path I lay out here, you will experience the personal satisfaction of having written a novel. And from that point, anything is possible." | September 2007
Linda L. Richards is the editor of January Magazine.