As a long-time veteran of how-to-write books, there isn’t much I haven’t been told, studied, or devoured in an attempt to improve my craft. Any book promising writing miracles in three months instills in me the desire to leave the tome on the shelf. It’s not that I don’t think you can write a novel in such time. I’ve done it. Rather I doubt the writer’s ability to offer inspiration that will last more than a few hours, much less three months.
Imagine my surprise when I opened Alan Watt’s The 90-Day Novel: Unlock the Story Within, and I ran out of ink in my highlighter and dog-eared every other page. Taken from his LA Writer’s Lab online forum, Watt offers a hefty intro to get you started, and then provides the daily entries from the forum to encourage you through your three-month journey.
Tidbits like, “Holding [your story] loosely,” and “It is character that suggests plot,” aren’t new. But Watt’s understanding of human nature comes across on each page. “Problems are solved while dilemmas are resolved through a shift in perception” is one of his mantras, and it holds true. Your story begins with a problem, but in broader concept, it is about a dilemma in your character’s mind.
What struck me the most is the process he suggests. For the first thirty days, you create scenes and characters in ways that may surprise the seasoned writer. Then you dig in for the last two months, developing and utilizing your initial ideas and allowing your subconscious to do the work for you. Will it work for everyone? Maybe not. But the vast majority of writers will find at least a little tweak they can make in their habits, courtesy of Watt’s sharp insight and emotional intellect of human beings and plot.
Not a perfect treatise on writing, the fact that the book is self-published comes through in occasional grammar and punctuation errors, and some mild formatting annoyances. Watt’s repeated references to his own award-winning novel, and what appears to be the only novel he’s had any success with, appears aggrandizing. Though I considered his lack of publishing experience, I found it didn’t matter: the man gets people and story.
Every writer of fiction or nonfiction should read this book. While Watt’s daily entries can be repetitive, they are an excellent guide for the newbie. For the experienced, read it with an eye for what you need to rethink or revamp in your own process.
Star rating: 4.5
Ally Bishop is the reviews editor of Hippocampus Magazine.