I’ve read my fair share of writing guides – I'm inordinately slow at figuring out how to write a book and it doesn’t seem to be getting easier – but Sol Stein’s struck me as particularly useful because of its stance. Look at that title: the implication here is you’re going to have problems.
It’s an old book but its posture feels refreshing and new. Most fiction-writing manuals give you a guide to writing from the blank page forwards, and as a result have a sort of baked-in breezy optimism. Simple, they seem to say, just build your story this way and there won’t be any hiccups.
Sol Stein though, was an editor. He knew that first, second, even third drafts of novels are a hot mess; misfiring structure, flat characters; plots beset with myriad problems. He assumes you’re already writing something shonky and you need help, and that perspective is sooo useful.
If you want convincing, take this: “There are eleven matters to think about before beginning,” Stein writes, “twenty-three to refer to while writing, six ways to get unstuck, and twenty-two matters to think about while revising.” Then he lists them for you.
It’s like having Yoda on your shoulder.