My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I’ve said it before I’ll say it again… Reading Lawrence Block’s writing books is like having a best friend who’s a successful writer taking you out for a coffee and giving you the low down about what it takes to have a career. In this book, which is an update of an earlier work called “Writing the Novel from Plot to Print,” he leads the neophyte writer through the whole process of what it takes to write a book.
The original book, even though written in 1978, is still intact here and still just as useful. Block updates where necessary (not often as it seems the craft of writing isn’t technology dependent), but in general, the chapters on topics like doing your homework, developing plot ideas, how to develop characters, etc. are all still great primers. He addresses common “how to write” tropes (Like write what you know) with clarity and understanding, explaining the best way to interpret the axiom and apply it to your own work. In fact, it’s that precise ability which makes this book incredibly valuable. Unlike numerous other writing books (some of which he mentions), which claim the “definitive” way to approach writing, Block knows it’s an individual pursuit and lets his readers in on that secret.
There’s something terribly freeing about knowing even professionals aren’t sure what they’re doing from book to book, as well as getting the idea that it’s okay to do things the way they work for you. This is what that coffee discussion would consist of. A New York Times bestselling, multiple award winning author sitting down and saying “This is what works for me. You can try it if you like, or use it as a starting point to figure out what works for you, but the most important thing is keep writing.”
All of this is great stuff, and 95% is in the original book, but it’s the “to Pixel” part of the title which really puts this whole book into a seperate category. The reason being is that when the book was originally published, the publishing industry was a very different beast than it is now. Block himself proved this when he started self-publishing some of his older works and then, in a wonderful stroke, self-published the 11th in the Bernie Rhodenbarr series, The Burglar who Counted the Spoons. These three chapters: “The Case for Self-Publishing,””The Case Against Self-Publishing,” and “How to Be Your Own Publisher,” take you through the pros and cons of taking on the task yourself and realizing it is far easier and far more daunting than you think. But like the rest of the book, he is quick to point out that what he is offering is not really a “how to” (despite the chapter titles) but a “what I did and what I learned while doing” kind of thing.
I got a copy of this book to review as a possible course book for a creative writing class. I can, without reservation, recommend it as a primer for anyone interested in writing a novel, whether or not you’ve done it before. Happy writing!