Review: Dear Ally, How Do I Write A Book? by Ally Carter
Have a novel manuscript? Have a few scraps of writing with no idea where to start? Whether you are a regular writer or someone just setting out, Ally Carter has said it all.
No theory book will make you a writer, this is true, but everybody needs to learn the craft, and everybody needs to learn from experienced writers.
Part theory book, part reflective autobiography on the writing life, this is the book which has been missing from the creative writing shelves. I don’t say that lightly. With people who have barely finished their first story penning advice, it might seem like a saturated market. As somebody who has spent the past couple of years working seriously on her writing craft, I can tell you from experience that this book does two or three things which I haven’t found before:
- It introduces the basic theory in one volume. Certainly, there are books which talk about more than one element of story craft, especially screenwriting books, but they tend to be of more use with a couple of manuscripts completed. Ally Carter’s novel is a lovely refresher for practicing writers, but it is also accessible to the total novice. (For the sake of simplicity I am using the terms ‘novice’ and ‘practicing’ to differentiate between people who have never completed a story and people who are not yet published but have drafted enough to be familiar with the most common theories.)
- It combines theory with the kind of down to earth, pragmatic advice previously found on YouTube. There are some things only time will teach a writer. Like how a novel takes the best part of a thousand hours. Minimum. Like that the first novel-sized thing you write probably won’t be novel-shaped, the first story you write probably won’t be agented, and the first thing you have agented won’t necessarily be published. Like how one person’s process is entirely different to another person’s. Often novice writers don’t want to hear these things. It breaks every myth they have ever heard (about inspiration, for example, or gifted people) and it can set their goals back by years. However, learning from more experienced writers is liberating. It is quite often the moment where people realise they aren’t doing anything wrong.
- The voice is pitched at teens – in the most non-patronising, realistic and totally brilliant way. This is the book I needed at 17 when I tried to write but had no idea how to turn my scrappy ideas into novels. As an adult reader, I found the book accessible and handy, but it would have meant the world to me as a teenager to find a book by an author whose name I recognised.
Examples are drawn from Ally Carter’s career, and from the experience of guest writers. While most of these were American YA authors, plenty has been published to huge success in the UK and their names will be familiar to voracious readers. Regardless of this, hearing from multiple authors on the same subject gives a wider lens to each answer. Creative writing books to often claim to have the answer. This book encourages the reader to find a way of working which suits them.
I would recommend this to any writer starting out, to practicing and emerging writers who need a gentle reminder that it doesn’t all happen at once, and especially to young people who would like to know where to begin.
All the theory, expertise and gentle encouragement you ever needed to get going. A fantastic book about creative writing from a successful Young Adult author.
Thanks to Orchard Books for my gifted copy of Dear Ally, How Do I Write A Book? Opinions my own.