How to Write, Mars Edition

Around the time that John Scalzi’s screed against writing in coffee shops came out, I got a copy of Walter Mosley’s This Year You Write Your Novel. Shortly after that, I got a manuscript of Dannell Jones’s The Virginia Woolf Writer’s Workshop, too.

I liked both books a lot. Both offered a pleasant distraction and that momentary pleasing sense that one’s novel (Am I writing a novel? perhaps, but, for the moment, only in my dreams) is just a few simple steps away. The “you’re not fooling anyone” mode that Scalzi went for doesn’t really work for me. I’m much more inclined, if I were to shell out money for a self-help book on writing to go the encouraging/pragmatic route.

This Year You Write Your Novel is an odd, left-handed way to get introduced to Mosely, but there it is: I’ve read one book by him and this is it. One of my favorite college professors really loved him and was sorely disappointed that the first Easy Rawlins movie was a disappointment. I saw him--fancy, sparkly, and big, standing outside the Javitz Center at BEA. That’s it.

And, months ago as I was thinking about writing about this guide, I saw that he’d been in a little brouhaha over a recent pornographic novel. Prude that I am, I just didn’t want to enter that conversation (I still don’t), so that became another reason not to write.

Still, Moseley’s book is wonderful: quick, smart, and very narrow in its focus. It’s not about managing your time or publishing. It’s about actually going from start to finish with a draft of a novel. A great, reasonable goal. He focuses on the balance between really going for the dream of the story--the deep unconscious thing that makes it work--and discipline. You must, he says over and over, sit down and write daily. You will, he reminds us, neglect other parts of your life. What I love best is how he just affectionately shrugs at the problems that may cause for some of his readers:
I know that this is difficult. Some of you live in tight spaces with loved ones. Some of you work so hard that you can’t see straight half the time. Some of you have little ones who might need your attention at any time of the day or night.
I wish I had the answers to these problems. I don’t.
That seems right and kind to me. The problem of time is one of the big problems of writing, but we each have to solve that problem in our own apartments.