Walter Mosley has written some 25 books and an equal number of short stories. His Devil in a Blue Dress was turned into a great noir-ish film starring Denzel Washington, and several others of his novels are or will be movies as well. His inner-city tales are described as “crime fiction,” but go well beyond the genre—they talk about white on black racism, black on black racism, social, political, cultural and class inequality, how we hold ourselves back, how we are held back, and more. I love his books, and the more philosophical he waxes (one of my favorite characters is named Socrates!), the more I love them. So when I learned that he had written a book entitled “This Year You Write Your Novel,” I felt that one of my favorite authors was speaking directly to this frustrated wannabe.
This slim volume is written in Mosley’s easy non-lecturing manner, and contains a lot of good basic advice and some real gems that set it apart. His first, last and most important lesson is that in order to write … you must write. Every day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Whether it is stream-of-consciousness, snatches of plot ideas, character sketches, a chapter-by-chapter outline of your story, or a first draft from first page to last, you must put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, and write. Mosley devotes chapters to how to build the armature that will support your novel, including point-of-view and dialogue, plot and character development, and even reluctantly offers a writing exercise or two. He talks about re-writing, how—or whether—to workshop your novel, how to find an agent, how to get published.
But Mosley then offers some profound insights, which I feel reflect the secret of his own success. He talks about the study of poetry as a way to learn both economy and elegance in writing prose. He talks about the understanding of music as language, of finding your novel’s internal rhythm and tapping into it. If you’ve ever read a Mosley novel, you’ll know just what he means. His spare language packs a wallop, and the drum beat is also just beneath the surface, if you listen for it. He talks about letting go of preconceptions of success or failure, of breaking through one’s own self-constraints and finding the subconscious other “you” which has its own thoughts and means of expression.
And he offers a piece of advice which, for me, sums up the essence of a good story: “The reader,” writes Mosley, “is always looking for two things in the novel: themselves and transcendence.”
Thank you, Mr. Mosley. Now to put pen to paper ….