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The Secret Miracle: The Novelist's Handbook

3.43  ·  Rating details ·  229 ratings  ·  49 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
Paperback, 368 pages
Published April 13th 2010 by St. Martin's Griffin (first published 2010)
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Apr 14, 2011 rated it did not like it
Shelves: true-story, write-now
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
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.
Paula Cappa
Dec 29, 2014 rated it it was amazing
How does a novel happen? Did you ever want to crawl inside a novelist's head and explore what that creative and technical process is like? I found this book at my local library and what a find it is. Because I am a novelist and short story writer, a quick page through the book hooked me. The author asked over 50 novelists a series of questions about their novel writing and their answers are incredibly insightful about their doubts, fears, strategies and experiences. How much research do novelist ...more
Jun 09, 2020 rated it really liked it
A fun read. Helps to know some of the authors that are quoted here: it's like reading twelve interviews at once. The questions are useful for dispelling any one-size-fits-all approach to novel writing, and that's the main takeaway: no two writers have the same process. (Which makes the title funny: there is no "secret miracle." Except, I guess, maybe the act of writing.)

I certainly had a great time knowing some to most of the authors included. Not sure I'd have gotten as much out of it if I were
Jordan Ferguson
Jul 11, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Apr 16, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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!
Jul 26, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: about-writing
I usually abhor those books with quotations from famous people, especially in reference to writing. Sometimes, the quotes are assembled from previously printed materials; other times, they simply don't address the needs of writers.

Alarcon's The Secret Miracle benefits from his well-worded and insightful questions on the process of writing, which come from his own perspective as a writer. Not only did I get some wise advice from me, but the book effectively provided balm when I was having a littl
Leah Cossette
Oct 18, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: reviewed, writing
This is not a book. This is a collection of opinions from famous authors, fragments of information not yet formed into a coherent whole -- this is the research you do before you write a book. This is not a book.

Some of the authors included are informative and helpful, like Stephen King and Michael Chabon. Some are no help at all, like Haruki Murakami. Some are hilariously pretentious. But the work of wading through all these disparate opinions is not worth anybody's time. Skip this one.
Marina Lindland
Jan 21, 2020 rated it it was amazing
If you are a fiction writer, this is a must-read
Chris Blocker
Jul 01, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
Marco Kaye
Nov 18, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
Jul 25, 2010 rated it it was ok
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
Sep 19, 2010 rated it liked it
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
Oct 30, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
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
Kristen Haynie
Jul 04, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
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
Ally Armistead
Jun 16, 2010 rated it it was amazing
"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
Nov 18, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, writing
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
Apr 03, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
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
Jun 21, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
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
Dec 11, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, 2012
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
Mar 23, 2012 rated it it was ok
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
Jul 05, 2012 rated it liked it
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
Apr 05, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Jenny Maveety
Mar 12, 2016 rated it really liked it
I really enjoy this book as a reference when I'm feeling stuck or just to learn some cool and interesting things other writers do. I will agree with a few other reviewers that sometimes the questions and answers are dry or like the "conversation" they are having with the interviewer is not really geared towards having an ACTUAL conversation but more to just check things off a list. It does give some insight into the lives of these writers and I'm glad to keep the book around but keep in mind tha ...more
Shawn Towner
Sep 18, 2010 rated it really liked it
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.
AJ Duric
May 03, 2011 rated it liked it
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.
Jun 15, 2011 rated it liked it
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.
Melanie  Hilliard
Nov 08, 2010 rated it liked it
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.
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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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