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Nail Your Novel - draft, fix and finish with confidence
by roz morris   

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Publisher:  hiive books ISBN-10:  0977998371


Copyright:  June 2009 ISBN-13:  978097799831

Nail Your Novel

Why writers abandon books and how you can draft, fix and finish with confidence

Will you finish the novel you’ve started? Will you get lost and fizzle out? What will you do when you run out of ideas and get stuck?


You need someone to hold your hand who’s done this all before.


Nail Your Novel is a writing buddy in a book. It tells you how to shape your big idea so you can make a novel out of it. How to do your research. How to organise your time. How to plan, how to write on the days you don’t feel like doing it. What you need to know about storytelling to do a good job of it. How to reread what you’ve written and polish it. And, once you’re satisfied, how to sell it to publishers and agents and look professional.


What’s different about this book? Most books will make you read hundreds of pages before you do anything. Nail Your Novel is just over 100 pages. And you don’t even need to read the whole thing before you get started. You read a bit, then do as it says. It anticipates when you’re going to run into problems and tells you what to do about them.


You’ve dreamed of writing a novel. Don’t get stuck half-way through and abandon it. Nail Your Novel. 

This book is a complete project plan for writing a novel. It’s a short book because there’s no need to make it a long one. And if you’re trying to start a novel you don’t need yet another thing to do before you can begin. Your time is precious and you need to get going.

Some writing guides make you go through a series of exercises to warm you up before you embark on a ‘proper’ piece of writing. Write 200 words every morning on a noun picked at random from the dictionary – that sort of thing.

There’s none of that here because I don’t believe that’s necessary. This is the age of communication. You can all text, email, tweet, blog, comment, review and write letters. You already know how to put your thoughts into prose.

What I will make you do is quite a lot of tasks that aren’t writing the actual text of your book. But they will all be work on your novel. But no exercises, no time wasting. From the word go, you are getting on with your novel. This is all work that will shape the finished book.

Professional Reviews

Nail Your Novel by Roz Morris
British author and writing teacher Roz Morris has a new book out just in time to help you with that first draft of your new novel. You know, the one you’re going to write in November for National Novel Writing Month, better known as NaNoWriMo.

Hiccups in your Confidence and Motivation
Morris writes with great wit and wisdom about the writing process, starting with those awkward moments when you actually admit, “Yes, I’m, uh, writing, well, you know, something a bit longer. Maybe, a, uh, a novel.”
Writing always begins here, by acknowledging the writer as a person with the usual insecurities. Morris address this directly by providing you with some structure. No, structure isn’t for everyone, but for beginners, structure can be a comfort and save them a lot of time. Her process involves a series of tasks, breaking down the process into smaller steps:

•Task 1: Shaping your inspiration
•Task 2: Starting this specific novel
•Task 3: Focused research
•Task 4: A structural survey for you novel
•Task 5: Detailed synopsis
•Task 6: How to free your muse and turn off your inner critic
•Task 7: Before you look at your manuscript again
•Task 8: The beat sheet game
•Task 9: Revising your manuscript
•Task 10: Your submission process
Help for NaNoWriMo writers
Authors embarking on the month-long adventure of writing 50,000 words in November will appreciate the first few tasks. Morris gives you direction on how to thicken the plot, find inspiration, decide what does NOT belong in the book, accept random input, and generally get the overall story thought out.

Research (Task 3) can flesh out details further:

“Research might throw up all sorts of interesting situations. For instance, I was commissioned to write a novel about people selling kidneys in India. Reading about the poverty in the villages inspired the start of the story – a young girl decides to sell her kidney to get her family out of debt. Of course, once she’s in the clutches of the butchers, she changes her mind, poor love. Meanwhile, her family are desperate to get her back.”

Overall, Morris’ experience enhances the book. This is a process she is intimately acquainted with and daily practices. Even if you’re experienced, I recommend the book as a review for concepts you already know. Because I think you’ll also find some unexpected nuggets. And for more nuggets, read Roz Morris’ blog, Dirty White Candy (Yes, a strange name for a blog, you say. Morris explains it on her home page). Example of her posts: How to Make Readers Root for Your Character

Nail Your Novel review
I've been promising for a while to review Nail Your Novel by Roz Morris. With Christmas here I've actually found some time to catch up on a few of my promises.

This is not a how-to-write book. It sits a step or two above that. If you need to know more about point of view, characterization or story structure you should read this book, but add in some others that examine writing at a lower or more specialized level. If, on the other hand, you're reasonably happy with your progress as a writer and still your attempts to finish a novel founder on problems of organization, control and motivation, this book may be the single missing piece you need to pull everything into place.

Nail Your Novel is, above all a practical guide, and Morris understands that the frustrated novelist needs to feel that everything he or she does counts towards the finished product. You have a project in hand, and you're not well disposed towards exercises that have you describing encounters between Genghis Khan and Isambard Kingdom Brunel (unless, of course that's the topic of your book "But don't you see Genghis, old chap, your slaughter of the Tangut imperial family, and my decision to utilize a broad gauge rail track are but two faces on the same coin!"). It is admirable to work on your skills, but you're not willing to add another six months to your project. Hence this promise:

What I will make you do is quite a lot of tasks that aren’t writing the actual text of your book. But they will all be work on your novel. But no exercises, no time wasting. From the word go, you are getting on with your novel. This is all work that will shape the finished book.

Morris understands that the kind of person who picks up Nail Your Novel will likely already have a work in progress. She solves this problem by providing a pathway though the book for those of us who are already some way down our own tortured paths. If you're just starting out on a new project, you can simply work from cover to cover.

For me, the heart of Nail Your Novel lies in the four chapters on writing and rewriting. The first of these, on preparation, helps you with the process of defining the parameters of your novel: the setting, and so on. Morris suggests using a system of cards and colored pens to define a rough outline. This gives you the freedom to play and rearrange, and also limits you to an initial broad brush approach. From here, Morris describes how you can build a detailed synopsis. Clearly, this approach places Nail Your Novel squarely in the outline-first camp in the Great Structure War, so the chapter may be best read together with one or more of the key books on story. I would suggest Story by Robert McKee, The Writer's Journey by Christopher Vogler, or The Anatomy of Story by John Truby.

Once you have your synopsis, you're ready to write. The chapter on first drafts is full of good advice and reassurance. Not least of which is the reminder that you are allowed to write as badly or as well as you need in order to be creative. There is nothing you can produce that cannot be fixed. Morris advocates risk taking and experimentation, and thus counters the potential criticism that a planned story is necessarily creatively sterile. In fact she encourages the writer to go off the trail at will, so long as he or she keeps the synopsis in line with each exciting new diversion. The chapter also contains advice for overcoming writers block and staying fresh throughout the long haul.

Nail Your Novel concentrates most on rewriting. This makes sense since a novelist will spend more time on this than any other task. That you get a chance to make your novel good after your first draft is one of the great takeaways of Nail Your Novel. It's a terrific relief to realize finally that writers are allowed to cheat. You can go back and make it better. And do so as many times as the manuscript demands. Morris starts out by describing the preparation process for the rewrite. This involves the creation of a document called the beat sheet. The beat sheet is a brief breakdown of the scenes in the novel, even those that are flawed or unnecessary. Once you have that overview in place, you can use it to assess your novel's structure, and the arcs of your key characters. As you work on the beat sheet you should create a timeline alongside it. Armed with this big picture you can amend the beat sheet to correct errors.

Because the aim of this stage is to assess the effectiveness of your scenes, and your novel's overall structure, the books on story I mentioned earlier may also come in handy here. When you're assessing individual scenes you may also consider The Scene Book by Sandra Scofield and Make a Scene by Jordan E Rosenfeld.

When you've finished, your beat sheet replaces the cards and synopsis that informed your first draft:

The cards game allows you to test the structural soundness of set-up, event and consequence. The beat sheet tests fitness for purpose – whether a scene works, what the purpose should be and how it should be rewritten. One is a tool for generating a story. The other helps you assess the story after you have written it.

Now, armed with your beat sheet, you're ready to begin the rewrites proper. Morris argues that you should take multiple passes over the manuscript so that you can focus on a different aspect of your novel each time. I think this makes a lot of sense. If you attempt to edit for everything in one pass, you'll either miss important issues that need work, or you'll become so bogged down that you never get beyond the first chapter. Suggested areas for attention include setting, character, dialog and tone. Morris argues that you should leave your language edit until near the end of the process. Again, this makes sense. You don't want to hone to perfection a scene that will then be jettisoned. Best handle your broad cutting and pasting first. Books that might supplement this phase include The Artful Edit by Susan Bell and Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Brown and Dave King.

The final chapter of Nail Your Novel deals with the submission process. It covers the feedback phase, and the preparation of the synopsis, cover letter, and manuscript. This process is too often skated over in writing literature. How many great novels have never seen the light of day because their authors neglected to jump through the various submission hoops the publishing industry has erected? If you want to avoid the same fate for your work, this chapter is an invaluable starting point. You'll also need a book like The Writers and Artists Yearbook (UK), or Writer's Market (US). For additional help with your query letter you should also spend some time at query shark.

This is a fine book. It provides a clean high level view of the novel writing process. While other books delve deep into specifics, Nail Your Novel offers a clear roadmap from conception to submission. A map to which I return periodically as I get lost in the details of a scene, or let my minor characters take over and steal focus from my protagonist.

You can download the electronic version of Nail Your Novel for free.

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