The Secret Miracle: The Novelist's Handbook
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The Secret Miracle: The Novelist's Handbook

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3.45 of 5 stars 3.45  ·  rating details  ·  146 ratings  ·  38 reviews
The world’s best contemporary writers—from Michael Chabon and Claire Messud to Jonathan Lethem and Amy Tan—engage in a wide-ranging, insightful, and oft- surprising roundtable discussion on the art of writing fiction

Drawing back the curtain on the mysterious process of writing novels, The Secret Miracle brings together the foremost practitioners of the craft to discuss how...more
Paperback, 368 pages
Published April 13th 2010 by St. Martin's Griffin (first published 2010)
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Nicky
Imagine that you’re given the opportunity to ask God one question. You spend months trying to come up with the perfect one then finally decide to ask, “Hey, what’s your favorite color?” That’s how stupid this book is.

All they had to do was ask 50 writers a bunch of interesting questions about their process, type up their answers, and sew it all together. That’s not rocket science. In fact, a book about rocket science would be ten times more readable.

One of the supposedly fascinating questions i...more
Jordan Ferguson
It was love at first sight when I saw the following Borges quote prefacing the introduction:

…like every writer, he measured other men’s virtues by what they had accomplished, yet asked that other men measure him by what he planned someday to do.

Yeah, Jorge had my number on that one.

In a perfect world, all I would do with my life is work with 826 National, a miracle of a nonprofit organization that tutors students from 6-18 in expository and creative writing. To help finance their operations, the...more
Celeste Ng
This was recommended by a writer friend who picked it up on a whim! It does a great job of dispelling the notion that there's a secret method or formula for writing--each of these authors goes about things in a different way, for different reasons. Helpful to be reminded that there's no one way to write a novel, especially when you're in the middle of things. I plan to filch quotes shamelessly next time I teach The Novel In Progress--it's a great resource for teaching.
Erin Neeley
This book benefits 826 National (where I work!)

54 authors from all over the world share the details of their writing process in what feels like an intimate conversation together. Authors inside include: Haruki Murakami, Michael Chabon, Amy Tan, Ann Enright, Stephen King and so, so many more.

Completely engaging and fun, with an incredibly thoughtful and funny foreword by Daniel Alarcón, pick this one up!
Marco Kaye
A lot of craft books can be a slog to get through. Luckily, this isn’t really a craft book and it's not a slog at all; it’s more like a roundtable discussion with some of the today’s best writers, including Jennifer Egan, Stephen King, and even recent Nobel prize winner Mario Vargas Llosa. The chapters are divided into aspects of writing, “Getting Started,” “Structure and Plot,” etc. It pertains mostly to the novel, but there is also lots of advice on writing short stories.

Not all writers always...more
Djrmel
This is as much a book for fans of writing as it is a book for aspiring authors. A series of questions are posed to a large (unwieldy if you don't recognize most of the names) of published authors and their answers are are given. Either some of the authors didn't answer all the questions or their answers didn't make the cut, bccause every author doesn't answer every question. That must be were the editing came in, I guess. This is a book about the personal habits and opinions of some writers - t...more
Chris Blocker
Imagine a round table discussion with 54 well-known and fabulous writers: Aleksandar Hemon, Claire Messud, Rick Moody, Stephen King, Gary Shteyngart, Daniel Handler, Haruki Murakami, and so forth. A question is presented to the group about the process of writing a novel, and writers chime in with honest and thoughtful answers. This is The Secret Miracle.

What I found most appealing about this book was the variation in answers. From Writing 101, aspiring authors are told to do this or that--i.e. f...more
Jamie
Beautifully repetitive. That's all I could think about when I was done with this. At first, I thought it was an incredibly useful tool for actual novelists or aspiring writers, but over time even that got to be a little too ambitious. It doesn't really help anyone who wants to write. The authors just repeat everything, in a different way, for every question that's posed to them.

But I liked it. I just didn't know how much of a handbook something can be if you come away with a few repeated sentenc...more
Cami
This is a good book to get you in an authorly mood.
It was a good tool to get my mind set for National Novel Writing Month. It was nice to see that I think like some authors in regards to how they write and how my thoughts differ from others.

This book is set up with a question at each heading and then the various authors answer the question. It very much reads like the authors were given a big packet of questions and filled them out. Unfortunately, they'll use phrases like: "As I wrote in the ab...more
Kristen
This book is made up of interviews of well-known novelists. It's written in Q/A format. For example: Daniel Alarcon sent a questionnaire to several novelists. In the book, he indicated the question he asked, then provides the answers from all of the novelists. Then moves on to the next question.

There is a lot of insight to be gained from reading this book, especially if you're new to the world of writing. It really shows that there is not one correct way of doing it. Everyone has their own style...more
marissa
Saw this on the shelf in the library and checked it out on a whim, and it really reinforces the notion that there is no cure-all prescription for good writing. Writers give short (or sometimes lengthy) responses to a range of questions about the process, from routines to word counts to drafts, and it's fun to see how wide-ranging their practices are. If nothing else, it's an encouraging reminder to be open to new methods until you find something that works for you. My whole life I refused to eve...more
Edwin
I always enjoy a peek behind the curtain of creativity. I didn't really read this book from cover-to-cover, but skimmed many of the pages here and there and refer to it every once in a while. I'm not certain how helpful it would be to an aspiring writer, other than to help one to realize that there are no rules. Some of these authors write the same way, but overall there are many different approaches to the various stages of the development of a novel. What I took from it was the permission to d...more
Justyna
This book is a good source of insight on the methods of various authors. Each writer featured was given the same questionnaire and the answers are organized by each "phase" of the writing process. Sure, some of the writers came off as super-pretentious and others as very down-to-earth (Stephen King has to be one of the most straightforward and coolest people out there, in my opinion), but overall it was interesting and inspirational to find out what makes some of these people tick. Is this a how...more
Ally Armistead
"The Secret Miracle: The Novelist's Guide" is a FIVE out of FIVE stars for this reader. Wow. The voices of 50 writers commenting on the entire process of creating a novel come together into a cacaphony of solace and wisdom, leaving the aspiring novelist with the sense that she is not alone in her st...umbles and false starts and impatience and the messy process that is writing. I'd recommend this for any writer, but particularly those in the midst of revising a novel draft. Hint: Reading this he...more
Sarah
I really can't remember why I picked this up. This is a compilation of answers given by published international authors to questions like "How do you handle interruptions?" and "Do you revise?". I was familiar with about 50% of the authors, and skimming some of the answers was interesting and often funny, but also tedious and boring too. It was interesting that some authors answered the questions about revising as "of course! Every writer revises" to "I never revise, how many authors spend a lot...more
Ethan
This isn't really a handbook. More of a collection of interviews with various writers. Alarcon poses a question, such as "Which authors do you most admire?" and then lists the various responses. It's interesting, for sure, but you certainly won't get a whole lot of information about the craft of writing, and the responses, as you'd expect, are all over the map. Alarcon acknowledges this in his introduction, saying that it's pretty obvious that most writers don't quite know how they do what they...more
Kseniya Melnik
I greatly enjoyed spending time in the company of these writers, hearing them talk about books, writing philosophy etc etc. it made me feel like "I'm not alone" in certain anxieties, difficulties - and that's hugely important. But as far as a novel writing manual or handbook, this book is pretty useless, especially for a beginner. One writer says one thing, the next one totally opposite. But I guess that's the whole point when it comes to writing: everyone must find their own way! We're all just...more
Linoaktown
The format of the book doesn't work well and fails to lend the reader a "whole" picture of each author's thoughts and processes. It's organized by topic or question, with each author's responses listed, thereby creating a disjointed read. The editing left something to be desired as well. Many of the answers boiled down to "Yes" or "No", or something to the effect of "Never considered that". Why waste print space on that; what's the point?
There is a great section on the authors' "favorite" books...more
Riley
After nearly 2 years, I finally got through this whole thing. (!!!) The opening is fairly dull, IMO, but the concept (once you know it) is quite cool: Ask 50-60 authors a series of questions about their reading and writing. It's not, in fact, a handbook at all, nor a secret miracle. But it's interesting, and at times inspiring, at least for aspiring writers. My copy is positively riddled with post-it notes and underlined passages, and I plan to share many of my favorite quotes with friends and f...more
Shawn Towner
An interesting, if somewhat unfocused, collection of musings on the art of writing. It was interesting to see the differences in the the habits and motivations of different authors, like those who do tons of research and those, like Stephen King, who claim to do none. It's also amazing to see just how long it takes to create great art. Some writers talked about how it took 15 years to write a novel, while other can turn out 800 pages in 6 months.
Buried In Print
This review was deleted following Amazon's purchase of GoodReads.

The review can still be viewed via LibraryThing, where my profile can be found here.

I'm also in the process of building a database at Booklikes, where I can be found here.

If you read/liked/clicked through to see this review here on GR, many thanks.
Marie
Only partially in love with this compilation of responses by writers to a series of questions such as, "Is there a particular way you approach noveliziing real events? How?". Interesting to compare the responses of Stephen King and Nell Freudenberger, for example, but something about the entire work feels a little thin. Maybe too facile...Just the responses and no commentary. But I'm still enjoying going in and out and nibbling.
AJ Duric
The secret is to get those word muscles in shape by writing every day. Most of the writers commit to 2000 words every day, and each one has his or her method to accomplishing a particular writing project. The other wonderful "secret" is that there isn't a formula for success, and while there is a pattern to the responses, just as often there is a writer with an opposing point of view or experience.
Mel
A validation that I read the books that need to be read, I hold similar thoughts on work but that I simply do not have the drive. There is no character living within me burning to live on the page. End of story. Interesting. Somewhat repetitive. If you're not familiar with these writers I can see where you'd be completely unamused by them.
Joshua Chandler
The book's format is question-and-answer between the author and a stupidly large number of authors, which makes it easy to reference, or to read a few responses and skip ahead to the next question and then come back later and read different responses. It's a great book, but it's not a textbook, so don't expect one. It's a giant interview.
John
A terrific collection of responses by authors, some famous (Stephen King, Amy Tan) and others less so, on the "How I Write" issue. Nails the point that there's no "right" way to go about tackling a novel - a writer succeeds by doing it the way that works for her or him.

Definitely recommended!
Tim
For this book, Alarcon sent out a lengthy questionnaire to a couple dozen contemporary novelists (like Paul Auster, Jonathan Lethem, Curtis Sittenfeld, and many more) asking them about their writing habits. Their answers are wildly conflicting and fascinating and useful.
Kathryn
Reads like being at a party with everyone talking at once. A trove of contradictory advice that is heartening in its diversity. Through trial and error, you find what works. We've already heard most of this advice, but somehow it's nice to hear it again.
Kathleen
Infotainment. I was surprisingly annoyed by the format of this book, it's like an extended magazine interview of multiple subjects.
Michael Hughes
There are some good tidbits here, but they are scattered among lots of dreck. If it were half the length it would work much better.
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Daniel Alarcón’s fiction and nonfiction have been published in The New Yorker, Harper's, Virginia Quarterly Review, Salon, Eyeshot and elsewhere. He is Associate Editor of Etiqueta Negra, an award-winning monthly magazine based in his native Lima, Peru. His story collection, War by Candlelight, was a finalist for the 2006 PEN/Hemingway Foundation Award, and the British journal Granta recently name...more
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