4 Books to Jumpstart Your Novel

by Kathleen

I’m writing a book.  Can you even believe that?

It’s been my lifelong dream to be a novelist, and I’ve finally decided to take action.  According to one of the guides I’ll describe below, I’m supposed to have a ten-word sentence that tells readers everything they need to know about the story. The closest I have is, “Who says all the drama in high school happens among the teenagers?”  Obviously, that’s not quite pithy and/or smart enough yet, but I’m optimistic.

Here are the four books that have inspired my project so far.  If you’re harboring novel dreams (or nonfiction, memoir, or other artistic aspirations), I hope you can find some coaching and inspiration from these, as well.

First, read Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. This made my best lists for nonfiction and audiobooks in 2015. It gave me permission to indulge my creativity for its own sake.  You are born to make art, Gilbert says.  So, go for it.  Don’t worry about other people, marketability, or the future.  Don’t quit your day job or pay money for an MFA.  Just write, in your spare time, in 15 minute chunks, in your head while you walk the dog.  The message was a relief, and it brought me back to my fiction project after I’d slowed.

Next, check out two books that tell you what to do after you’ve scribbled a few thousand words or have a character on the edges of your imagination.

Write Time: Guide to the Creative Process from Vision to Revision – And Beyond by Kenneth Atchity. Atchity tells writers what to do, definitively and gently, from when to write, how to revise, and what to do with rejection and frustration. He makes your project seem possible (inevitable, really) and outlines the habits and habits of mind that will bring you to publication, whether through traditional or independent means. I keep playing sections back – the parts about developing a main character and organizing a plot, especially – as I write my daily quota and map the story.

Your Book Starts Here: Create, Craft, and Sell Your First Novel, Memoir, or Nonfiction Book by Mary Carroll Moore.  I’m taking a class with Mary this summer, and the chapters she’s assigned from this book have been a huge asset to my progress.  It’s filled with information about how to structure and plan your work.  I just recently put my W-shaped storyboard on the wall of my studio, and I felt so energized – like I might actually know where my story is headed.  I’ll be adding a copy of this book to my library when my course with Mary is finished, as I know it’ll take me where I want to go.

Finally, behind the scenes of one writer’s success. I loved reading “The Getaway Car” by Ann Patchett, a 46-page essay in which the author describes her process.  While I won’t be applying for a fellowship and locking myself away in a cabin, I will remember Patchett’s advice about narrators and story structure and sticking with it. Patchett’s “getaway car” was her first novel, The Patron Saint of Liars, which I really liked.  Per Elizabeth Gilbert, I have a day job and don’t need a getaway, but I relished the behind-the-scenes tour from one of my favorite writers.

Writing a book?  Have a novel dream?  Which books are inspiring you?


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Janna July 6, 2016 - 7:59 am

Congrats on writing a book! I’ve never been one for creative writing, but my mom still has hope one day I’ll write a bestseller and manage to make a J.K. Rowling-esque fortune off it. I guess time will tell. Good luck and keep writing!

Audiobook Review: Be Frank with Me - Literary Quicksand December 8, 2016 - 2:49 pm

[…] this thing where I’m reading debuts. I’m doing it because I’m trying to write my own first novel, and it seems like a good idea to read the first novels of other people. You know, the novels of […]

Nikki April 28, 2020 - 6:25 pm

I am also currently writing a book and this list is pretty helpful.thank you for this post. I also am just starting a book blog, but i’m not sure what my first post should be. Any suggestions?


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