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Lessons from a Lifetime of Writing: A Novelist Looks at His Craft

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Novelist David Morrell provides insights and advice learned during 30 years of writing and selling novels - insider secrets to help writers achieve the next level of literary success, whether they are just beginning or already published.


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Novelist David Morrell provides insights and advice learned during 30 years of writing and selling novels - insider secrets to help writers achieve the next level of literary success, whether they are just beginning or already published.

30 review for Lessons from a Lifetime of Writing: A Novelist Looks at His Craft

  1. 4 out of 5

    Andy Gavin

    Having just finished the first draft of my second novel I did what I always do after a draft: take a little time to consider my craft (and not look at the book). So I pulled this puppy off my stack of books on writing. I've read a lot of such books, and this is one of the better ones in it's category. They fall into a number of broad groups: books on specific components like plot or character, books on sentences, books on editing, books on selling your books, books on summarizing your books, wind Having just finished the first draft of my second novel I did what I always do after a draft: take a little time to consider my craft (and not look at the book). So I pulled this puppy off my stack of books on writing. I've read a lot of such books, and this is one of the better ones in it's category. They fall into a number of broad groups: books on specific components like plot or character, books on sentences, books on editing, books on selling your books, books on summarizing your books, windy pontifications on the nature of creativity, and this type, the bit of everything, with a dose of personal experience thrown in. Lessons is a lot like Lawrence Block's Telling Lies for Fun & Profit. Both cover a bunch of the big areas quickly like plot and structure, and also include the author's personal perspective on his career (Morrell's best known for First Blood , on which the first Rambo was based) and the writing business. It does not focus heavily on sentences or editing. There were a number of interesting insights. He has a technique for getting past sticky points in your story construction I might try (next time it happens). There were also some interesting technical thoughts on the structure of scenes and chapters. He has a perspective on selecting POV that I hadn't come across, which was interesting. Although he is slightly dated in his opinion of first person stating that he feels it always needs a reason why the narrator is telling the story. This used to be the case, but in the last few years the rise of first person (particularly in YA) was sort of negated this. A good chunk of the book is about his career, optioning books to Hollywood etc. This was amusing as well. He started in the early 1970s so he's a product of that different era in publishing. The book was written in 2002 and while none of the writing advice is dated, the advent of ebooks and changes in the market are shifting the business side. Still, good writing is still good writing, and even writing style itself doesn't change all that fast. Books I've read by authors whose prime was the 1950s still have plenty to offer. Last weekend I read The Postman Always Rings Twice, published in 1934, and that hardly seems dated. So if you like books on writing and plan to read many, I'd check Lessons out. While that doesn't sound like spectacular praise, I do like this book. Many writing books I read are total drivel. This one was worth the time, and that says something. Some of my favorites are:

  2. 4 out of 5

    Justin

    This is one of the best books on writing I've read. As a writer with decades of experience, Morrell has much to share about the craft. He begins by asking why one wants to be a writer. We write because we have to. He covers useful strategies on getting focused such as having dialogues with yourself (something I've found valuable for myself). As far as the technical elements, he goes over plot, character, structure, viewpoint, description, and dialogue. As much as I've heard similar information b This is one of the best books on writing I've read. As a writer with decades of experience, Morrell has much to share about the craft. He begins by asking why one wants to be a writer. We write because we have to. He covers useful strategies on getting focused such as having dialogues with yourself (something I've found valuable for myself). As far as the technical elements, he goes over plot, character, structure, viewpoint, description, and dialogue. As much as I've heard similar information before, I gained some new insights. I also found more practical parts helpful like research, dealing with writer's block, publishing (the traditional route), the movie industry (sounds like a deathknell for a novelists' creativity), and finally a Q&A. Overall, this book balances the technicalities fo writing with the personal, honest, and inspirational insight of an accomplished writer.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Joni Fisher

    Advice from a master of the craft and business of writing. I recommend this book to writers for the wisdom shared in it. Practical, inspirational, and brilliant. Wish I'd read it years ago before publishing my first book. Advice from a master of the craft and business of writing. I recommend this book to writers for the wisdom shared in it. Practical, inspirational, and brilliant. Wish I'd read it years ago before publishing my first book.

  4. 4 out of 5

    John Bruni

    I've read a lot of books on writing. Most of them are not very helpful (if at all), but there are a few that I worship. Up until now I've considered the best to be A WRITER'S TALE by Richard Laymon. It has been deposed by David Morrell. Hands down, this is the best and most useful book on writing I've ever read. Not many writers of such books go to the effort of teaching things most people take for granted, like structure and POV. Morrell gets in there and gets the job done. His motivational adv I've read a lot of books on writing. Most of them are not very helpful (if at all), but there are a few that I worship. Up until now I've considered the best to be A WRITER'S TALE by Richard Laymon. It has been deposed by David Morrell. Hands down, this is the best and most useful book on writing I've ever read. Not many writers of such books go to the effort of teaching things most people take for granted, like structure and POV. Morrell gets in there and gets the job done. His motivational advice is amazing. He even delves into the psychology of writing and how to get over the hangups you have that are preventing you from making progress with a work. Not only that, but he also has faith in the reader that he or she will be successful because he also talks about things like contracts and movie deals. He really does have all the bases covered. The only thing better than this book would probably be to actually study in one of his physical classes. If you're a writer and you haven't read this book, you need to correct this oversight immediately.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Scott Firestone

    This is an excellent book about the process of writing. It's not as autobiographical and conversational as Stephen King's terrific On Writing. And it's not as prescriptive as The Elements of Style. It falls between those two extremes and offers practical, thoughtful advice for better writing--along with Morrell's own recollections of his own experiences. One of the best aspects is that he has entire chapters that deal with the actual process of getting a book published, and selling rights to Hol This is an excellent book about the process of writing. It's not as autobiographical and conversational as Stephen King's terrific On Writing. And it's not as prescriptive as The Elements of Style. It falls between those two extremes and offers practical, thoughtful advice for better writing--along with Morrell's own recollections of his own experiences. One of the best aspects is that he has entire chapters that deal with the actual process of getting a book published, and selling rights to Hollywood. Not only is this sound and useful advice, but it actually assumes you'll need it, since you've surely written something worth selling, thanks to his advice. That's great. The one caveat I have is that you shouldn't read this if you ever want to read any of Morrell's novels. Throughout the book he reveals the plots (and plot twists) of many of his novels. Just beware. But don't let that stop you from reading this excellent guidebook.

  6. 4 out of 5

    John Orman

    I've heard Mr. Morrell speak several times in New Mexico, so I was interested in what his book had to say. In a mixture of memories and precise directives, Morrell describes the writing process as he views it. It's interesting that Morrell decided in 1960 to become a writer because of the TV series Route 66. Those two cool cats cruising the Mother Road in a Corvette--who was writing that amazing dialog, and how could Morrell get a job doing that. A letter to the series' scriptwriter resulted in a I've heard Mr. Morrell speak several times in New Mexico, so I was interested in what his book had to say. In a mixture of memories and precise directives, Morrell describes the writing process as he views it. It's interesting that Morrell decided in 1960 to become a writer because of the TV series Route 66. Those two cool cats cruising the Mother Road in a Corvette--who was writing that amazing dialog, and how could Morrell get a job doing that. A letter to the series' scriptwriter resulted in a response that sent Morrell on to writing heights, including his first novel, First Blood, with a hero named Rambo.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Belle Wong

    Just finished a quick reread of this one (I skimmed most of the chapters, but thoroughly read the chapters on getting focused and dealing with writer's block). The first time I read this book, I was really taken with Morrell's idea of a written conversation with yourself about your book idea, rather than an outline or winging it. I've never tried his method, but the idea feels as fresh and inviting to me today as it did the last time I read the book. Just finished a quick reread of this one (I skimmed most of the chapters, but thoroughly read the chapters on getting focused and dealing with writer's block). The first time I read this book, I was really taken with Morrell's idea of a written conversation with yourself about your book idea, rather than an outline or winging it. I've never tried his method, but the idea feels as fresh and inviting to me today as it did the last time I read the book.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Emma Sea

    out of print, ordered from abebooks

  9. 5 out of 5

    Amy

    I started this book sometime in January, and over the course of the next 9-10 months I read it cover to cover, taking notes on each chapter, renewing it from the library, returning it to the library when my renewals ran out, checking it back out, repeat. I don't know that it told me anything that I haven't read in the writing books from other authors (such as Stephen King), but it was also part autobiography, and David Morrell has definitely led an interesting life (and convinced some government I started this book sometime in January, and over the course of the next 9-10 months I read it cover to cover, taking notes on each chapter, renewing it from the library, returning it to the library when my renewals ran out, checking it back out, repeat. I don't know that it told me anything that I haven't read in the writing books from other authors (such as Stephen King), but it was also part autobiography, and David Morrell has definitely led an interesting life (and convinced some government agencies to let him do things that probably would never be allowed in a post-9/11 world). I'm not rating it higher just because I feel like some of the information is a little out of date. In this day and age, yeah, you pretty much are going to have to have a computer and know how to use word processing software, because you are going to need to use email and submit your work digitally in a precise format. Fun side fact - First Blood used to be taught in schools until Ronald Reagan ruined it and nearly killed David Morrell's career with some crack about the movie Rambo. Fucking Republicans ruin everything.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Yousif Alazzawi

    It's a great book by professor David Morrell. Although I didn't finish the whole book, but it definitely provides valuable information about writing. The book mostly about writing fiction, but I feel I can use the same techniques to write about nonfiction. The first chapter starts with the writer's story when he was a teenager in a classroom. He decided to be a writer because he was impressed by a tv show in the 1960s. Then we wrote a letter to the writer of the tv show. The writer replied, "If It's a great book by professor David Morrell. Although I didn't finish the whole book, but it definitely provides valuable information about writing. The book mostly about writing fiction, but I feel I can use the same techniques to write about nonfiction. The first chapter starts with the writer's story when he was a teenager in a classroom. He decided to be a writer because he was impressed by a tv show in the 1960s. Then we wrote a letter to the writer of the tv show. The writer replied, "If you want to be a writer, the secret is to write, write, write and keep writing." It's such a great reply that motivated him, but his journey was hard. The second chapter was a question, "Why do you want to be a writer." He gives several reasons, but finally, the reason he admires is: because you have to write. The first to chapters I admired the most and the chapter that talks about Psychology of writing I benefit the most. Generally, the book has much worth information. It's for beginners and as well as professionals writers.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Laurie Holding

    I read a lot of books about writing. This one is one of the best. While I was reading it, I also got Morrell's Burnt Sienna out of the library, because I wanted to see his fiction while reading his advice, and my advice to you, if you're a writer (and really, why would you read this book if you weren't, or at least wanted to be?) would be to do the same. Burnt Sienna's plot never lets up. It's fast, it's constant pressure and action and tension. And I learned. Lessons from a Lifetime of Writing I read a lot of books about writing. This one is one of the best. While I was reading it, I also got Morrell's Burnt Sienna out of the library, because I wanted to see his fiction while reading his advice, and my advice to you, if you're a writer (and really, why would you read this book if you weren't, or at least wanted to be?) would be to do the same. Burnt Sienna's plot never lets up. It's fast, it's constant pressure and action and tension. And I learned. Lessons from a Lifetime of Writing is Morrell in conversational tone, teaching us how to keep a reader turning pages, no matter what your genre. He has chapters on theme, character, different types of plots, and how to construct a story. Now let's see if I can do something with all these notes.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Linda

    Morrell has a lot of good advice from his own life and his own writing, plus a little bit of interesting gossip from the days of selling his work to Hollywood. A fun and interesting book, plus he's a good cheerleader for those of us who weren't born with a silver spoon in our mouths. Morrell had one of the crappiest childhoods that a kid could have. If he can make it with all the strikes he had against him, people like me can make it as a novelist, too. Morrell has a lot of good advice from his own life and his own writing, plus a little bit of interesting gossip from the days of selling his work to Hollywood. A fun and interesting book, plus he's a good cheerleader for those of us who weren't born with a silver spoon in our mouths. Morrell had one of the crappiest childhoods that a kid could have. If he can make it with all the strikes he had against him, people like me can make it as a novelist, too.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Brenda Lowder

    David Morrell gives such valuable advice! This is a compelling and readable mini-course on writing from beginning a draft through the publishing and movie businesses. I predict this book is a resource that will stay on my shelf to be much referred to in the future.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Daniel Volpe

    A must read for authors. Keep a highlighter nearby for some of the great passages and tips.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Suzie Quint

    David Morrell has written more than 20 books. His best known is First Blood. Yes, as in Rambo: First Blood. I always find it reassuring when the author of a writing book has written books that are still in print years later. Even better when it's a book I recognize or have read. Having written a character that's a cultural icon, I expect him to know his stuff. That said, I wasn't sure what to expect from the title of this book. Was it going to be about his personal journey as Stephen King's book David Morrell has written more than 20 books. His best known is First Blood. Yes, as in Rambo: First Blood. I always find it reassuring when the author of a writing book has written books that are still in print years later. Even better when it's a book I recognize or have read. Having written a character that's a cultural icon, I expect him to know his stuff. That said, I wasn't sure what to expect from the title of this book. Was it going to be about his personal journey as Stephen King's book is, or would it be more of a how-to book? Turns out it's a bit of a hybrid. Morrell writes about his journey, but his insights are universal. Such as when he writes about what you should write about, he relates what he was once told by Science Fiction author Philip Klass (pen name, William Tenn): Look inside yourself," Klass said. "Find out who you are. In your case, I suspect that means find out what you're most afraid of, and that will be your subject for your life or until your fear changes." Morrell calls this "fiction writing as self-psychoanalysis." Do I think this is a worthwhile book? Oh, yeah. Morrell doesn't give you "rules" or even a lot of writing advice. He doesn't harp about conflict or story structure. What he does give you are tools. He encourages you to think outside the box. How to find that story that you need to tell. You can bet that you'll find this book on my keeper shelf. extended review at Falling in Love with Romance

  16. 5 out of 5

    Lloyd Christensen

    When I first started writing several years back I found this book. The idea that a writer who's work I really liked had taken the time to write about the process of writing and his thoughts on a lot of related topics impressed me. I became the newsletter chairman for a small writing club I belonged to in Texas and in each month's newsletter I tried to add a tips column. Quite a few came from this book. I really liked his conversation about film rights. I think every aspiring writer has dreams of h When I first started writing several years back I found this book. The idea that a writer who's work I really liked had taken the time to write about the process of writing and his thoughts on a lot of related topics impressed me. I became the newsletter chairman for a small writing club I belonged to in Texas and in each month's newsletter I tried to add a tips column. Quite a few came from this book. I really liked his conversation about film rights. I think every aspiring writer has dreams of having their stories made into major films. Morrell's blunt talk about the experience of selling options many times for the original First Blood are enlightening. I also liked his take on writing physical descriptions of characters. Basically, unless it is necessary to do so, he prefers to leave it to the reader to imagine what the character looks like.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Tara Calaby

    I have read a lot of books on the craft of writing over the past few weeks and this is definitely my favourite. For me, I much prefer to read an author telling me how they do it, with no assertions that their way is the only way. I also like to know that the person talking about how to write is someone with a proven record of writing and selling multiple works, preferably over several decades. Morrell is one such person, and he has a PhD in literature, to boot! I really enjoyed the way that this I have read a lot of books on the craft of writing over the past few weeks and this is definitely my favourite. For me, I much prefer to read an author telling me how they do it, with no assertions that their way is the only way. I also like to know that the person talking about how to write is someone with a proven record of writing and selling multiple works, preferably over several decades. Morrell is one such person, and he has a PhD in literature, to boot! I really enjoyed the way that this book encourages writers to read widely and not to become snobbish about literary - or, indeed, commercial - fiction. The only downside is that it's a little dated these days - in particular, the chapter on submitting in my edition is nigh on useless in the age of digital submissions! 4.5 stars

  18. 5 out of 5

    Jobie

    This is a great and inspiring book. I have never read any of Morrell's fiction and I picked this up at the library on a whim. It has great, practical advice and thoughts about the writing life. This is not a "tools" book, however, it was good because it encouraged me to keep writing. He talks about both the craft of writing and the business of writing which was insightful and honest. The only thing that was a little annoying was that when he would address certain writing problems he often addressed This is a great and inspiring book. I have never read any of Morrell's fiction and I picked this up at the library on a whim. It has great, practical advice and thoughts about the writing life. This is not a "tools" book, however, it was good because it encouraged me to keep writing. He talks about both the craft of writing and the business of writing which was insightful and honest. The only thing that was a little annoying was that when he would address certain writing problems he often addressed his own books (none of which I have read) so it was a little hard for me to follow though he made his point clear enough. He does reference the craft of other writers as good examples of this or that. I'd recommend it to anyone currently writing or wishing to begin to write.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Rick M. Cook

    This book was given to me by a friend who found a flood-damaged hardcover copy of it in a garage sale. Despite its tortured exterior and crumply pages, I found it to contain good advice (though dated by a dozen years) for writing in general. Specifically, it helped me iron out my internal conflicts on when to choose “first person” for a story’s POV (spoiler answer: very rarely, and you’d better have a damn good reason for it!). Morrell also tosses out several pearls of wisdom with chapters on vie This book was given to me by a friend who found a flood-damaged hardcover copy of it in a garage sale. Despite its tortured exterior and crumply pages, I found it to contain good advice (though dated by a dozen years) for writing in general. Specifically, it helped me iron out my internal conflicts on when to choose “first person” for a story’s POV (spoiler answer: very rarely, and you’d better have a damn good reason for it!). Morrell also tosses out several pearls of wisdom with chapters on viewpoint, research, character and plot building. His chapters on “What Not to Do in Dialogue” and “Dealing With Writer’s Block” were especially enlightening and helpful to new/unpublished writers. The moral for me: Never judge a book by its waterlogged cover!

  20. 5 out of 5

    Debbie Robson

    I usually don’t read Art of Writing/self help writing books but this one caught my eye with the lighthouse on the front cover. I flipped through and could immediately see that this looked much better than most. Instead of catchy how to get started lessons and weird and wonderful exercises, this has much more useful chapters focusing on structure, viewpoint and research. I found his chapters on viewpoint particularly helpful. I feel this is a very neglected topic and Morrell cleverly underlines t I usually don’t read Art of Writing/self help writing books but this one caught my eye with the lighthouse on the front cover. I flipped through and could immediately see that this looked much better than most. Instead of catchy how to get started lessons and weird and wonderful exercises, this has much more useful chapters focusing on structure, viewpoint and research. I found his chapters on viewpoint particularly helpful. I feel this is a very neglected topic and Morrell cleverly underlines the importance of considering from which point of view the story is to be told. Recommended reading for all wannabe novelists.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Paul

    I discovered this book after discovering the author's website during Jonathan's writing a book in 9 months class. I related the book to my class mates and they added Stephen Kings book on writing as another valuable writing aid. David Morrel actually answered his own site e-mail and mentioned I might like his book. It was very valuable and I have returned to review it several times. Since then Jonathan (Maberry)has sat next to David at some events and I have discovered this author is a bit more ap I discovered this book after discovering the author's website during Jonathan's writing a book in 9 months class. I related the book to my class mates and they added Stephen Kings book on writing as another valuable writing aid. David Morrel actually answered his own site e-mail and mentioned I might like his book. It was very valuable and I have returned to review it several times. Since then Jonathan (Maberry)has sat next to David at some events and I have discovered this author is a bit more approachable than I had realized. I really liked his religious thrillers after First Blood.

  22. 5 out of 5

    B.J. Kurtz

    This is a great read no matter if you are just writing your first book or if you have been at writing for a while. His lessons on writing and the business are very informative and helpful. I only wish he had more information about life as a writer outside of creation. For example, he briefly discusses contracts and book distributions, but I would have liked to view a little more on the ins and outs of what an author can expect to encounter once a book is published. Even still, it was an encourag This is a great read no matter if you are just writing your first book or if you have been at writing for a while. His lessons on writing and the business are very informative and helpful. I only wish he had more information about life as a writer outside of creation. For example, he briefly discusses contracts and book distributions, but I would have liked to view a little more on the ins and outs of what an author can expect to encounter once a book is published. Even still, it was an encouraging read that I would recommend to any writer.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Brad

    If you have any desire to write on a high level, as means of expression or as an aspiring professional, there isn't a better source of information and insight, or a better example to follow, than this work by David Morrell. It's no coincidence that David Morrell is not only one of the most successful andhighly respected authors in the business, but one of my personal favorites as well. If you have any desire to write on a high level, as means of expression or as an aspiring professional, there isn't a better source of information and insight, or a better example to follow, than this work by David Morrell. It's no coincidence that David Morrell is not only one of the most successful andhighly respected authors in the business, but one of my personal favorites as well.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Sanuk

    This is a good book on writing. The author give good tips on how to write. He also give us a glimpse in the author mind and life as an author. The author is a successful novelist, he knows what works. I am not interested in the kind of novels he writes as they seem to violent for my taste but I enjoyed his view on writing and believe that it can be useful.

  25. 4 out of 5

    February Four

    Good to read through once, and it's great to learn from someone who's obviously been there and done that. Not good if you want to actually learn a _lot_ (there are better books), but if you're looking for an overview of how a master got where he got, this is good. Good to read through once, and it's great to learn from someone who's obviously been there and done that. Not good if you want to actually learn a _lot_ (there are better books), but if you're looking for an overview of how a master got where he got, this is good.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Patricia Brooks

    If you are a writer you should be reading this book - I have now read it two times and use it for reference while I teach and mentor other authors - thanks for all the great books you have done and for this info on how you do it.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Rodney

    Loved this book. It gave me more useful information than any ten other writing books I've read, combined. I got this one from the library, but will definitely be buying it. I highly recommend it to anyone, whether you're planning on writing a book, or not. Loved this book. It gave me more useful information than any ten other writing books I've read, combined. I got this one from the library, but will definitely be buying it. I highly recommend it to anyone, whether you're planning on writing a book, or not.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Robin Burrows

    David Morrell's book on writing is very insightful. He discusses both the craft of writing and the psychology of being a writer. He explains why certain things do or do not work in writing, but he also captures the heart of what it means to be a writer. I highly recommend this book to any writer. David Morrell's book on writing is very insightful. He discusses both the craft of writing and the psychology of being a writer. He explains why certain things do or do not work in writing, but he also captures the heart of what it means to be a writer. I highly recommend this book to any writer.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Rada

    I liked this book. It gave me some good techinques to think about. I didn't really finish it because I went on vacation and it is due back at the library too soon. But I will probably check it out again at a later time. I liked this book. It gave me some good techinques to think about. I didn't really finish it because I went on vacation and it is due back at the library too soon. But I will probably check it out again at a later time.

  30. 4 out of 5

    David

    Good book. Great advice for writers. Some may find said advice harsh. Too bad. Reviewed by, David Feeney, author; Terror on the high seas Good book. Great advice for writers. Some may find said advice harsh. Too bad. Reviewed by, David Feeney, author; Terror on the high seas

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