Vision: A Resource for Writers
Lazette Gifford, Editor
Holly Lisle's Vision

Book Review

Teach Yourself Writing a Novel and Getting Published
by Nigel Watts

By Damon M. Lord

2002, By Damon M. Lord

There are many books on the market targeted to the authors who want to improve their work, and in the past, I have become sceptical of such works, particularly when they claim to be what you need to make an idea into a blockbuster. However, as I browsed in the bookshop through Teach Yourself Writing a Novel and Getting Published by Nigel Watts, from the established "Teach Yourself" series of books, I immediately decided that it was well worth the cover price. A striking guide, it makes no promises except to "take you through the process of writing a novel."

Peppered liberally throughout with relevant quotations from such masters as Ernest Hemmingway, T S Elliot, and Gustave Flaubert, there is no required reading to be done before using this book. All that is required is the dream to be a novelist, although he does quickly address the issue of whether to use a pen and paper, typewriter, or the latest computer. He neatly presents the advantages and disadvantages of each, ultimately leaving the decision up to the reader.

Watts does not dictate any particular method for writing, explaining that the book is a demonstration of how he writes. This is a "Teach Yourself" book, and it shows. The excellent style and layout allows the reader to dip into the book at any point for quick reference, and even has an essential chapter which is missed in most writing handbooks, dedicated to "'Support"', including sound advice on how to overcome writer's block. 

Watts admits to being "'visually orientated"', and he can be forgiven for adding examples from cinema into a guide to writing. In one instance he describes an amusing scene from the film Crocodile Dundee II and excellently applies it to the chapter's topic, building a scene that doesn't seem flat. 

As well as addressing perennial issues such as plot, sub-plot, dialogue, and character, exercises in the style of the exercises in the Forward Motion boards are given at the end of each chapter to enable the writer to develop ideas and practice the lessons given with leading questions. 

Watts is not afraid to face issues that other writing guides tend to shirk: "You need to be strong because to do a good job requires facing the demons of fear, laziness, your past, your future." This honesty quickly allows the reader to warm to Watts' style, especially when he mentions, in 'Office Hours and the Muse', that the Muse "will dance only if asked nicely and fed coffee and biscuits." 

I particularly enjoyed Watts' ability to add humour to his writing. This is evident throughout with relevant quotes, and anecdotes. The story of how he had to rewrite his second novel in the first person, which he had been writing in the third, is one that many writers will sympathise with. Another tale of note is about his search for a plot after completing his second novel, and how he was stranded for six months before an idea came to him. 

My copy is well thumbed and dog-eared, and I have made copious notes in every margin. If a book in a poor state is any indication of its quality, Teach Yourself Writing a Novel and Getting Published by Nigel Watts comes with my highest recommendation. If you get yourself a copy, I hope you will soon find yours in such a condition too.

 "Teach Yourself Writing a Novel and Getting Published" by Nigel Watts, London, 1996. ISBN 0-340-64807-4 Price 7.99 (UK)

Damon M. Lord is a university student studying languages and has been writing since he was six. His areas of interest include created languages, nineteenth and twentieth century German culture and history, twentieth century East Asia, and the Norman period in British history. He is currently at work on his first novel, and speaks fluent Esperanto.