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How to Grow a Novel: The Most Common Mistakes Writers Make and How to Overcome Them
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How to Grow a Novel: The Most Common Mistakes Writers Make and How to Overcome Them

4.05  ·  Rating details ·  748 ratings  ·  83 reviews
Each year thousands of fiction writers, from beginners to bestselling author, benefit from Sol Stein's sold-out workshops, featured appearances at writers' conferences, software for writers, on-line columns, and his popular first book for writers, Stein on Writing. Stein practices what he teaches: He is the author of nine novels, including the million-copy bestseller The M ...more
Paperback, 256 pages
Published March 20th 2002 by St. Martin's Griffin (first published 1999)
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Average rating 4.05  · 
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Dec 30, 2008 rated it really liked it
So far as I can tell books on writing fiction break down into three genres: 1) Books by writers passing on what they've learned along the way (King) 2) Books by writers/teachers geared toward students (Burroway), and 3) Books by editors/agents that give an inside peek at the publishing industry.

Stein's How to Grow a Novel is a hybrid of all three. Before he became an editor he wrote a bestseller called The Magician and few other novels. In form and function this book reminds me very much of Dona
Louise Silk
Aug 13, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: self-help
I came upon this book when I was trying to find the answer to a technical question about the novel I am writing. I feel like this book gave me a complete writing workshop just when I could use it the most.

Some of the most important points:
Conflict is a necessary element for dramatic action.
You have to capture the reader from the beginning or they will never love the book.
Generalities are blurry; success lies in details that enable the reader to experience the scenes.
One plus one equals one half
Quinn Irwin
Oct 23, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: writing
Stein writes a few gems of advice here and there, but he also lays just as many eggs; some of his advice is arbitrary, sometimes he rambles on points which could have taken half as long to make (the editor needs an editor), and his suggestions for further reading include his own book--On Writing--which he references throughout the entire text, all the while making it sound better than How to Grow a Novel, and he suggests other books written by friends, a strategy that basically undermines the au ...more
Adam Ross
Jan 18, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: on-writing
A helpful book, though Stein is a hopeless snob ever sneering down his nose at "genre fiction." ...more
Justin  K. Rivers
Aug 25, 2009 rated it liked it
Well-written, sometimes rambling off into name-dropping tangents. It contains some useful insight but is perhaps unfocused. Part of it is how to write, part of it is general analysis of writing and publishing from the viewpoint of someone who has worked as a writer, editor, and publisher.

If you are looking for a manual or guide on how to write well, this is not it. But if you've already gotten prose under your belt, and want some insight into how an editor or publisher views a novel, this might
Mar 31, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: on-writing
Disappointing - doesn't say much that isn't covered in more depth in the excellent Stein on Writing: A Master Editor of Some of the Most Successful Writers of Our Century Shares His Craft Techniques and Strategies, to which this book refers constantly. In Stein on Writing, Stein's occasional self-absorption and arrogance is easy to ignore because the advice is so clear and actionable as to be downright inspiring. In this book, the advice is thin and the arrogance takes center stage. And even if ...more
Jeanette (Ms. Feisty)
There's some extremely valuable info here that I've not found in other books on the craft, including some useful insider info on the publishing biz. Unfortunately, you have to wade through a lot of examples and self-promotional, self-congratulatory b.s. to find the good stuff. It wouldn't be ungenerous to say the book could have been half the length. Already outdated in some ways, but still highly useful for serious people. ...more
Delvin Chatterson
Aug 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Great guide for writing a first, or better, novel.
Sep 06, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: library, nf, writing, xx2012xx
I enjoyed this book, and hoping to get more out of his earlier book, Stein On Writing: A Master Editor of Some of the Most Successful Writers of Our Century Shares His Craft Techniques and Strategies. He is a bit full of himself, but there's good information here. Probably worth buying. ...more
Kevin Albrecht
Sep 03, 2012 marked it as to-read
Shelves: writing
(Recommended in "Self-Editing for Fiction Writers" for being an anecdotal guide on the common pitfals of writing a novel.) ...more
Sep 26, 2015 rated it liked it
One of those books that start out really strong & helpful, and then sort of ... fizzles towards the end, as the author pads out his material to Proper Book Length.
Stan James
May 05, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: reviewed
I'm a sucker for "how to write a novel" books and when How to Grow a Novel was on sale, I picked it up as I was interested in Stein's perspective not just as a writer but also as an editor and publisher.

There's some good stuff here and the advice is practical and precise, if sometimes contradictory. Stein both advises writers to read their own work aloud--and to not do so (because novels are read, not heard). He offers some genuinely interesting glimpses into how the book publishing business wor
May 15, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: writing, nonfiction
I got the feeling that Sol Stein had a lot of great writing advice . . . but also that he'd explained most of it in Stein On Writing: A Master Editor of Some of the Most Successful Writers of Our Century Shares His Craft Techniques and Strategies, and that he wasn't willing to repeat it. (In fact, in this book he gives several references like, "Just read chapter umpty-ump of Stein on Writing."

Having not read Stein on Writing, I was adrift through parts of this book. And not being interested in t
Bill FromPA
May 12, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, lit-crit
I don’t plan to write a novel. Sol Stein defines a writer as “someone who cannot not write”. Other than an occasional logorrheic Goodreads review, I am fairly accomplished at not writing.

I bought this because I picked it up at a book sale, opened it at random, and read a passage that horrified me. I bought the book because I was hoping for more such passages but was disappointed; this is pretty much a middling but occasionally helpful guide to writing.

As a reader, I think most of the advice Stei
Rachael Ashdown
Jul 28, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: on-writing
About halfway through Stein's book, he gives us a chapter on dialogue, using the metaphor of a baseball game to explain his points. I think that metaphor fits well with my feelings on this book: overly long and self-indulgent. While Stein certainly shows his experience and knowledge with useful points, he draws them out far too long for my short attention span. I found myself thinking more about what I was going to say in this review than how his wisdom would translate to my current work-in-prog ...more
Brock Meier
Apr 25, 2018 rated it really liked it
Based on other readers' reviews, I thought this book could be a useful addition to my toolkit of writing helps, to be tucked away in the dark recesses of my mind as I write my own works.
I tried valiantly to read and absorb Stein's decades of worthy experience in editing (and writing) good literature, but I kept finding myself arguing with him as I read, and discounting his words as formulaic. After three or so chapters, I couldn't take anymore and put the book on a high, back shelf. Perhaps I w
Jul 31, 2019 rated it it was ok
2.5 stars... While there are some good tidbits in here and some great writing advice, the author is an arrogant book snob who constantly talks down to genre and commercial fiction as lazy or not quality while espousing the grand qualities of his own literary works and those of his friends or clients. Rather than give information on various topics that he brings up, he simply (and constantly) points readers to his other book on writing. He also laments computers and the internet as having detrime ...more
Sep 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It is so refreshing to read a HowTo book where every piece of advice is actionable. Too many writing skills books are just a memoir by an author who really doesn't seem to know why they have been so successful. Sol Stein knows what works and tells you step by step how to write, rewrite, edit, rewrite and publish your texts. After reading any chapter you will be able to sit down and apply the lesson to your last, current and next text. If pressed for advice on reading order, I'd recommend reading ...more
Ariella Carver
Oct 21, 2018 rated it liked it
I picked this up because I found his previous book, Stein On Writing, very helpful and enjoyable to read. Unfortunately, I found that most of the worthwhile material in this book was covered far better with wonderful concrete examples in On Writing. Quite frankly, if he didn't reference his previous work so often in How to Grow a Novel, I would have assumed that this came first and that On Writing was the follow up. I still found How to Grow a Novel to be interesting, particularly his experience ...more
Jean Lee
Feb 16, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: writing-craft
This is the first book I've ever read on the literary fiction writer's craft. There just isn't that much out there on how to write literary fiction. Most of the popular craft books I've encountered are for genre writers of sci-fi, romance, mystery, thriller, etc. While I have learned a lot from reading these types of books that are heavy on techniques, I was really aching for someone from the literary tradition to give their approach to novel writing. Thankfully I found such advice in Sol Stein' ...more
Jun 07, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: writing
Stein gives thoughtful and concrete guidance in how to be a better writer. He discusses some of the business end details, but also explores the craft and ways to be a better writer. At times, he references his own work quite a bit, which is sometimes helpful, and sometimes feels as if his own thoughts about his work are biased (as of course they are). Still, very helpful to hear from someone so experienced.
Scott Johnson
Jun 29, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, writing
A competent overview of the topic that accomplishes its goal.

It may have benefited a bit from some more specific examples; by far the best section was near the very end when Stein takes you through editing the work of two clients and the type of feedback he gave. But in general I see why this was recommended to me and will be picking up his other book that he references quite a bit in this one.
Mar 06, 2021 rated it liked it
This is a companion book for Stein's other book on writing, which is aptly named 'Stein on Writing'. Despite being shorter, it contains additional material, including more advanced writing techniques and editing, as well as informative on proper methods of dealing with agents, editors and publishers. While not as useful as the previous book, it has its benefits, especially for aspiring writers in the US. ...more
Rick George
Jan 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Practical advice

Stein writes with the authority gained from a lifetime juggling the roles of writer, editor, and publisher. He provides plain-spoken advice supported by examples and anecdotes. He asserts that the author's number one obligation is to create strong emotion on the part of the reader, and his book builds upon that premise.
Jun 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A lot of important advice in this book. Highly recommended.
Jul 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Fabulous tips for anyone wanting to write a novel.
Aug 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
Fine, useful tools for an aspiring writer by an expert. Clearly expressed and encouraging.
Gregg R.
Mar 24, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: writing
Good follow up to Stein on Writing.
Simon Bardwell
This book has a lot of good useful advice and guidance. It is spoilt by being too wordy and self publicising. But stick with it for the useful stuff!
Sep 05, 2020 rated it it was amazing
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Sol Stein was a best-selling novelist and the publisher of works by James Baldwin and Che Guevara. He also worked with David Frost, Jack Higgins, Elia Kazan, Dylan Thomas, and W.H. Auden.

Stein and Baldwin met as students at DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx, where they worked on the literary magazine.

Stein served in the Army during World War II. In 1949 he received a master’s degree in Engli

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