If you’re a writer, you probably have at least one shelf full of books about writing. You probably have a copy of Strunk & White, Stephen King’s On Writing, Writer’s Market, The Chicago Manual of Style, and a dictionary and thesaurus you haven’t opened for years because you now look up words online. You might also have guidebooks for writing your specific genre and format. When I was scriptwriting, I was a fan of John Truby and his 22 steps. To judge a writing guide, it all comes down to a single question: Does it work?
I’ve been a big fan of Jenna Moreci and her YouTube channel for years. So, I was excited that she was coming out with her own writing guide, Shut Up and Write the Book. It captures all the brilliant insight and foul-mouthed snark of her videos. (You can see my video review on TikTok.) But does it work as a writing guide? To test it out, I followed the book’s advice as I started the draft for my new novel for Fun A Day Reseda. Here’s my experience.
Shut Up and Write the Book (I’ll use her preferred abbreviation of SUAWTB from here on) takes you through the whole process of creating a book, from coming up with ideas through finishing the draft to having it ready for submission or publication. My Fun A Day project of writing the first 50,000 words doesn’t even take me through a first draft. But the guidance in SUAWTB helped me get down the first 50,000 words and build momentum for completing the manuscript.
The first step is to come up with the idea for the book. At Loscon, I learned the importance of finding the intersection between what you want to write and what will sell. Jenna goes into this process in more detail. For my project, this information helped me develop my story idea, especially because I’m writing in a new genre.
From this idea, you build the structure of the plot. Even if you’re a pantser, you still need to give your story shape and direction. While there are many ways to structure a story from the classic three act structure to Save the Cat, your story should follow a pyramid of rising action based on conflict that reaches a climax. Jenna presents her own story structure, which she used in her The Savior’s Champion series. I used it for my book, and I found it extremely helpful. I put together the major story beats and set up the conflicts.
But a structure is just a starting point. As I started writing, I made adjustments to the plot points and when they take place. To add suspense, I delayed some steps in the structure. I also made some steps longer or shorter to fit the pacing I wanted.
Subsequent chapters cover different aspects of writing a novel, including character and developing the various parts of the story. It helps that SUAWTB includes summaries for each of the topics presented in the book. If I’m working on character and need to refer to story structure, I can go back to the summary.
In a chapter about world-building, Jenna says this step applies to all stories, not just those set in fictional places. I agree. I set my book in real places, but I still need to depict the appearance, society, and culture of those places without relying on info dumps.
Another chapter I found especially helpful was about plot twists. We’ve all seen them done badly, and Jenna provides helpful tips to avoid these mistakes. As a result, I thought of some interesting twists for my characters that added to my story.
The final quarter of the book covers getting feedback from critique partners and beta readers, working with professional editors, and how to know when your book is ready to go out into the world. These are important parts of the writing process most guides overlook.
Shut Up and Write the Book is a writing guide that works. It got me started on my new novel, and its guidance will help me as I incorporate my beta comments for Christina’s Portrait. (Look for more information about this soon.) I recommend it and Jenna’s YouTube channel to writers of all experience levels.