Refuse to Be Done: How to Write and Rewrite a Novel in Three Drafts (Paperback)
They say writing is rewriting. So why does the second part get such short shrift? Refuse To Be Done will guide you through every step of the novel writing process, from getting started on those first pages to the last tips for making your final draft even tighter and stronger.
From lauded writer and teacher Matt Bell, Refuse to Be Done is encouraging and intensely practical, focusing always on specific rewriting tasks, techniques, and activities for every stage of the process. You won’t find bromides here about the “the writing Muse.” Instead, Bell breaks down the writing process in three sections. In the first, Bell shares a bounty of tactics, all meant to push you through the initial conception and get words on the page. The second focuses on reworking the narrative through outlining, modeling, and rewriting. The third and final section offers a layered approach to polishing through a checklist of operations, breaking the daunting project of final revisions into many small, achievable tasks.
Whether you are a first time novelist or a veteran writer, you will find an abundance of strategies here to help motivate you and shake up your revision process, allowing you to approach your work, day after day and month after month, with fresh eyes and sharp new tools.
About the Author
Matt Bell is the author most recently of the novels Scrapper (a Michigan Notable Book) and In the House upon the Dirt between the Lake and the Woods (a finalist for the Young Lions Fiction Award and an Indies Choice Adult Debut Book of the Year Honor Recipient, as well as the winner of the Paula Anderson Book Award). His stories have appeared in Best American Mystery Stories, Tin House, Conjunctions, Fairy Tale Review, Gulf Coast, and many other publications. A native of Michigan, he now teaches creative writing at Arizona State University.
Praise for Refuse to Be Done
A Lit Hub Most Anticipated Book of 2022
“A generously packed guide . . . that effectively balances literary thinking with actionable advice, drawn from [Bell's] own experiences and those of luminaries from Francine Prose to Samuel Delany.”
—The New York Times Book Review
“[An] accessible, encouraging craft book offering helpful techniques for every step of the process.”
“A gift bag of tactical tips that even seasoned pros will find useful . . . this is the rare writing handbook that never feels chore-like or airily aspirational . . . Using crisp, relatable prose that nimbly balances positivity with a realistic awareness of the grueling commitment novel-writing entails, Bell teaches by example.”
—Minneapolis Star Tribune
“[An] inspiring yet pragmatic guide to writing a novel . . . Along the way Bell avoids a one-size-fits-all approach and encourages writers to either dismiss or, better yet, subvert any of his strategies.”
—Poets & Writers Magazine
“[Refuse to Be Done] is incredibly readable and useful. It focuses on the art of revision, where most of the magic happens. But it also has plenty in it about how to get started. Nothing snobbish about it, just super-smart and practical.”
“The craft book to end all other craft books . . . What has always been remarkable about Bell as a member of the literary community, which is demonstrated so clearly here, is that he believes in the individuality of the writer. There is no one way to write your novel and this book is not prescriptive or totalitarian in its advice, as craft books and talks so often have been in the past. . . . For writers, teachers, and students alike, Refuse to Be Done will be a permanent addition to your bedside table.”
—Heavy Feather Review
“Matt Bell reminds us that beyond inspiration lies attentiveness, craft, and revision, revision, revision. Refuse to Be Done is a guide to fiction writing so full of beautifully expressed practical advice, touching on everything from what to write, to how and when to write, that it's, truly, viscerally exciting to read. Perhaps improbably, Bell is as masterly a writer about fiction as he is a writer of fiction. I can't imagine anyone setting pen to paper, or fingertips to keyboard, who won't want to keep this book permanently close at hand.”
—Benjamin Dreyer, New York Times bestselling author of Dreyer's English
"Drawing on the wisdom of everyone from Ursula K. Le Guin to The Pixies, plus his own successes and struggles, Matt Bell has given the world a tremendously clear (but never over-prescriptive) guide to the wonderful mess of writing a novel. I want this book in my students' hands yesterday; I'm grateful to hold it in mine today."
—Rebecca Makkai, Pulitzer Finalist for The Great Believers
“[U]nique from other guides. Using Bell’s book, you can successfully take your book from the earliest, roughest draft to a final, polished edit that you could submit to an agent or publisher.”
“If you are working on a novel and only have time to read one help and improvement ‘how to’ title on writing, make it Refuse to Be Done.”
—Midwest Book Review
“Matt Bell is a fine writer and a sharp observer of the craft of writing — all of which makes this book, focusing on both writing and revision — an especially intriguing proposition. It’s an exciting addition to a growing group of books about the unexpected aspects of the craft of writing.”
—Vol. 1 Brooklyn
“Perfect for writers of all skill sets, this book will be invaluable for anyone setting out to write a novel.”
—The Young Folks
“We all need help to be the best writer we can be. This brilliant book from Matt Bell not only does that, but it also teaches you have to be efficient, something that is a must as writing becomes a career. I loved this book and I cannot recommend it enough. I will definitely keep it close to hand.”
“Fantastic . . . An indispensable reference and guide . . . Yes, Bell packs his book with practicable tips and tricks, but it is the manner in which he does this that is so truly remarkable. With an authentic tone of encouragement and a rampantly infectious enthusiasm, the book highlights Bell’s passion for teaching and his genuine respect for all writers.”
“A compact and invaluable resource for anyone looking to knock ‘writing a novel’ off their bucket list.”
—Phoenix New Times
"Matt Bell has written an essential, passionate guide to the art of the novel. What makes this such an excellent primer is how Bell anchors everything in writing as an act of discovery. He ties that discovery to the practice of revising and listening to your work. And he gives concrete, technical suggestions on how to do that without sacrificing sophistication and without resorting to formulas. A gift to writers at any level."
—Dana Spiotta, author of Wayward
“Matt Bell’s brilliant Refuse to Be Done offers writers and writing teachers everywhere a clear guide to a process that seems daunting to me still: how to organize the writing and revision of a novel? How to avoid having 740 drafts labeled ‘final’? How to make a best effort and let it fly? There’s so much art in this, and so much art will come of it. Essential for newbies and old hands alike.”
—Alexander Chee, author of How to Write an Autobiographical Novel
“This is the CrossFit of craft books, a literary piece of gym equipment that will help you progress dynamically through your creative projects with agency, clear-sightedness, and a new appreciation for the often overlooked, but utterly essential act—and art—of revision. Refuse to Be Done is a must-have for the writer who is ready to up their writing game.”
—Courtney Maum, author of Before and After the Book Deal: A Writer’s Guide to Finishing, Publishing, Promoting and Surviving Your First Book
“Refuse to Be Done isn't merely a book on how to write a novel, it's also a book on how to be a writer, how to think like a person whose book will be on a shelf. We used to be told to kill our darlings, but I don't think that's true anymore, not after reading Matt's excellent advice. If we do as he tells us, our darlings might just grow up and move out on their own, never to bother us again . . . until the next time we find ourselves staring at that blank page. A book perfect for the newcomer or the seasoned author who needs a fresh way to look at the novel.”
—Tod Goldberg, New York Times bestselling author of Gangsterland
“[Refuse to Be Done] deserves a spot on every writer's desk.”
—BookPage, Starred Review
“Many bookshelves sag under the weight of creative writing instruction manuals, but few are as engaging—in little more than 150 pages—as Matt Bell's Refuse to Be Done . . . [A] myriad of sound and ingenious tips . . . to help improve any writer's finished product.”
“[A] heartening guide to writing a novel . . . Bell’s cheerleading is bolstered by plenty of interviews and examples . . . and writers intimidated by the process will find solace in the case he makes that while good writing is not easy, putting one’s whole self into a novel is an ‘incredible joy.’ Budding novelists, take note.”