The Frustrated English Major: Or why I bought another writing book


“So, is this the year you write your novel?” the clerk asks.

I unfold my cash and hand it over to her. “Yes.”

I feel my answer is terse, a little unfriendly. She’s just making small talk. An innocent comment about the book I’m buying — Walter Mosley’s This Year You Write Your Novel.

The clerk talks about how she’s tried to write a novel, and has decided to put off writing a novel. Instead, she’s going to start small. Write some articles. Start a blog.

I know why I’m terse. It goes beyond my innate shyness. When she asks me whether I plan to write a novel, I want to blurt, I have a blog, I write articles. I’ve written a novel. I’ve written three. But the last one . . . that manuscript sits gathering dust on my hard drive. I’ve given up, lost interest in mid revision.

“A frustrated English major?” the clerk asks. She sticks my receipt under the bright orange book cover.

“Yes.”

“Me too.”

But, I’m more than a frustrated English major. Or I hope I am. That’s why I bought yet another book on writing. I have another idea for a novel. Or a story. Or a few pages. Or something. And I hope Mosley’s book will in some way keep me motivated enough to write more than a few paragraphs. To write a draft of something. Not get discouraged and give up, because I don’t want to be a frustrated English major.

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4 thoughts on “The Frustrated English Major: Or why I bought another writing book

  1. Todd, I have heard that’s a good one. I just read Chapter After Chapter which I recommend highly. More the mental and emotional side of writing and keeping going through discouragement.

  2. I recently checked that book out of the library and read several of the chapters. I think writing books are the next best thing to a writing coach. I also just read Janet Evanovich’s How I Write. Good stuff!

    • All the various writing books for me have been like getting an MFA. Science fiction novelist Nancy Kress recently wrote about Richard Bausch’s critique of writing books on her blog. She defends the books, with caveats of course.

      Each book I read, I discover tidbits that make me think about writing in different ways. Mosley addresses the standard show, don’t tell, saying, that showing “invites the reader into conversation with a character who, the reader feels, intends to stay around for a while. The character is going to introduce the reader to his world.”

      That’s what you want readers to do — to go into the world of your book or story no matter the genre.

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