Comparison is often the enemy of creation. To peek back at what others have accomplished while you're hunched over your own endeavor is sure to dump a pitcher of water over any creative spark. The problem here--and for my purposes, we'll keep this discussion to the matter of creative writing--is that the writer is surrounded by finished works. They only have the successes as an example and are rarely exposed to stumbles. To compare your own sloppy, slobbering first draft, finished in a few months or more, to a published book that took years and many hands to bring it to fruition is unhelpful and unproductive.
The same can be said of many books on the craft of writing. Often, these how-to's detail the ideals. In and of itself, this isn't a bad thing. It's helpful to have a model to work towards. But even ideals can be hampering when you're involved with a creative work that you're still coming to understand. That abstract, different-for-everyone process between the blank page and completed bound pages rarely gets talked about. As such, I'm sure many first time writers falter in their first steps because they've become convinced there is a right way to write, and how they're writing isn't it.
Refuse to Be Done is a little godsend for those in the weeds. Its subtitle, "How to Write and Rewrite a Novel in Three Drafts," should tell you everything you need to know. A prolific author and teacher, Bell's svelte guide is not a how-to, exactly. Bell acknowledges up front that there is no one way to get going and get finished. Rather, with the structure of three separate drafts, Bell details from his own experience and the experience of such a varied roster of authors (keep track and you'll have one hell of a new reading list by then end) the many ways in which one can make daily sense of this process of discovery. When it's not directly helpful, it's reassuring: everyone gets stuck, everyone needs to go back, everyone wants to burn their first draft from time to time.
Tips come as general as "Widen Your Page Margins," which will both make the page on your screen look more "booklike" while also giving you more corrective space when you first your first draft off, and as specific as "The Circle of the Novel," which helps you track the different kinds of discourse in your work in progress. Going further into the second and third drafts, the advice becomes more specific and niggling. In the second draft, Bell walks you through "Outlining the First Draft to Find the Second," and by the third draft, it's time to "Analyze Patterns of Stressed and Unstressed Syllables." You still need to do all the hard work for yourself, but Bell's advice helps make sure the hard work pays off.
I'm loath to describe any craft guide as "indispensable," but I'd argue that having Refuse to Be Done on your writing desk is akin to having jumper cables, a jack, and emergency flares in your car. The two hardest parts of a writing project are getting going and keeping going, and this book will aid you with both. The next time you reach for your favourite drum-tight novel, it's helpful to keep in mind that it went through it's own particular, inelegant journey to get there.
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. It's totally free and constitutes its own creative writing course.