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With NaNoWriMo just around the corner, it’s time to get some inspiration – and what better way than with the bluntly named “I Should be Writing”. My internal monologue reads this as *screams* “I SHOULD BE WRITING!!!” in a harried, overly-caffeinated way so quite why there isn’t an exclamation mark on the end of the title is (spoiler alert) a mystery that is unfortunately left unresolved within the pages of the book. Perhaps I equate a different level of stress to the knowledge that I’ve wasted two hours looking at videos of puppies vs stairs when I know that I SHOULD BE WRITING!!! – and is possibly the reason that Mur Lafferty has a book and I… well, I know all the ways that a puppy can fall down the stairs. So cute!
I Should be Writing (bet you screamed that in your head) is part self help book, part constructive guide to get you to, well, write. There’s a big focus on motivation (“You’re a writer. Get over it” (seriously, what does Mur have against exclamation marks?)) with plenty of tips for avoiding common mistakes, improving your manuscript and a brief discussion on the different ways to sell your work. There’s also lots of writing exercises to spark your imagination, should you be a bit stuck. The book is pretty brief, but it’s the sort of guide that you can dip in and out of to get an overview on a particular topic, because, you know, you really should be writing…
I found the actual advice given in the book to be pretty useful, if a bit basic (my favourite thing that I learnt was if a character can be replaced with a sexy lamp, you need to make her have more agency). There was some good stuff on character development, passive language and plot devices that helped me to think about the structure and direction of my work (I say that as if I have actually written something – I haven’t – but I do have ideas) which again was quite useful. I’m sure that if I do actually sit down and write something I will become immediately sidetracked by the pretty shiny on Pintrest so knowing that I have some constructive advice to fall back on is quite comforting.
I found that when I was reading the writing exercises at the back of the book I was immediately trying to answer the prompts in my head. I think it was the way they each headed a blank page – it felt like I was in an exam and I had to draw a spider diagram to get all of my ideas down before I forgot them. I might still get a mark even if I don’t get round to writing about them! After all, I’ve only got an hour! Aargh! How many points is the question worth? I’m going to need extra paper! Why is Clara using a highlighter pen? It never leaves you…
I could easily have smashed out a few hundred words for each of the writing exercises so I’d recommend this book on the strength of these prompts alone. I think they could definitely help authors with writers block as they were all clear, non-repetitive and easily relatable; no weird shit like “you look out of the window and there’s a dinosaur in your garden. Write about what happens next” (Answer: you die from the seizure which initiates such bizzare visions) or “A horse opens its mouth and…” which makes you churn out such nonsense that you question your integrity as a person, let alone a writer. Top marks for Mur. They probably used highlighters too.
The only thing that this book was missing was advice on literally how to write; where you should start, how you can plan a novel out, how to remember which character is which etc. I would have liked some input on these topics over and above “just start writing”. For me that way madness lies but I guess I just enjoy having a proper structure to stick to. To each their own.
Overall, I enjoyed reading “I Should be Writing” (punctuation optional) and I think it would be a good, basic guide for the aspiring novelist. It’s a fun, quick read that avoids all of the dry, textbookyness (I know that’s not a word but Mur said I’m a writer so I can do shit like that) of other writing guides. The focus on motivation and procrastination could be really useful and the writing exercises gave me some great ideas. All in all, a great introduction to writing and a useful book to have around.
Overall rating: 3.5/5
Solid, basic advice written in a light hearted style. Fun to dip in and out of when you need inspiration.
Please note that I read this book for free via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thanks, Netgalley! I also read this book as part of the Popsugar Reading Challenge 2017 # 20 Read a Book With Career Advice.