How to Write a Novel: Impractical Advice From People Who Have Done It

“Put your left hand on the table. Put your right hand in the air. If you stay that way long enough, you’ll get a plot,” Margaret Atwood says when asked where her ideas come from. When questioned about whether she’s ever used that approach, she adds, “No, I don’t have to.”  Enough said, Margaret Atwood.

I go through phases where I don’t care at all about the practices of other writers, as I’m fairly certain nearly all of us are unbearably unproductive, even if it’s only in secret we solemnly peruse the blogosphere (which might, in fact, be unconsciously urging us toward illiteracy) in self-loathing procrastination.  But for a few reasons my alert is up lately, reading about how other people write.  The Wall Street Journal unabashedly titled their conglomeration of short interviews “How to Write a Great Novel” (from where Atwood’s above quote was pulled), as if they truly held The Answer.  (They didn’t.) They did interview our friend John Wray, though, who read new work from his new MacBook at the Vol. 1 Brooklyn launch and anniversary party last week.

Pretty awesomely, Colson Whitehead wrote an essay, half joking, that might actually be helpful called “What to Write Next.” In upwardly practical advice, Amy McDaniel of HTMLGIANT urges motifs, not metaphors.

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  1. I really enjoyed the Colson Whitehead piece and Amy McDaniel’s motif list idea was surprisingly enhanced by the comments following. Thanks for the link.