Revising with the Book Architecture Method: Interview with Author Stuart Horwitz
In late June, I had the pleasure of attending a workshop called ‘The First Draft is The Easy Part’ with author and coach Stuart Horwitz. I had already checked out his new book Blueprint Your Bestseller: Organize and Revise Any Manuscript with the Book Architecture Method and was planning on buying it as it looked like a unique approach to revising. When I arrived at the workshop, I was thrilled when I was handed a signed copy of his book that came as part of the registration packet. The workshop was packed and we were treated to a presentation that was informative, humorous and also included a live action short film. It wasn’t a typical workshop and Stuart’s book is not a typical one about writing. As a matter of fact, it’s not a craft book per se. It’s about structure and how to truly revise a manuscript instead of tinkering with it around its edges. I read the book in two days. His method has given me the courage to radically revise my first novel that I had put aside because of its ambitious nature (e.g. multiple person POVs, non-linear time sequences, over 200,000 words, etc.). His book offers a flexible method that enables a writer to uncover the flaws and strengths in their work as they revise. And, I’ve found that using his method, I’m actually having fun rethinking my sprawling novel.
Stuart Horwitz is the founder of Book Architecture, a firm of independent editors based in Providence and Boston. He has spent over fifteen years helping writers become published authors. His clients have reached the best-seller list in both fiction and non-fiction. Stuart brings a synthesis of academic theories of narrative structure and his hands-on experiences as an independent editor, book coach and ghostwriter to thinking about how to revise effectively.
Blueprint Your Bestseller was named one of 2013’s best books about writing by The Writer magazine. I thought I’d invite Stuart to the Practice of Creativity to discover more about his unique take on writing. I’m delighted to welcome Stuart Horwitz to this blog.
–Why did you write Blueprint Your Bestseller? What’s in store for readers?
I was teaching a class called “Blueprint Your Book,” in which I was trying to show my students how to structure a book-length work. One of my students came up to me after class and asked me, “Where is the book that tells me how to do all this?” Naively, I said, “I’ll buy three from the bookstore and then whichever two you don’t want, I’ll just return.” Well, needless to say, there wasn’t one there.
As for the second part of this question I would venture to say, the book presents a sane way of looking at plot/structure — through a method, not a formula. There may in fact be a deep structure that exists in our psyche that influences how we receive narrative. But we don’t get there through formulas, through exploiting how we think that structure operates ahead of time like all those Hollywood beat sheets — you know, start the love interest in minute 20, have the main character contemplate death in minute 80… Instead we use a method to discover how your work may be resonating with that deep structure and how you are approaching it originally.
Or maybe you just wanted me to say “it’s about revision.” Ha! It’s both.
–What is the ‘book architecture method’ and how did you discover it?
This wasn’t what I was going to be when I grew up. I wanted to be an angry young man novelist in Border’s “New Voices” program. Good thing that didn’t work out — for many reasons. I would be stuck in a person and Borders is closed.
The Book Architecture Method is a twenty-two step process for organizing and revising your manuscript. It has helped bestselling authors get from first draft to final draft.
I don’t know; this has always just been the person I am. I got a Father’s Day card from my 15 year-old that said, “Please don’t travel so much next year (from my book tour) — things are much more systematized when you’re here.” High praise!
–Most writers find revising longer pieces frustrating, unsatisfying, and often tinker around the edges indefinitely without tackling the most demanding elements of the revision. As a coach how do you help writers stay motivated through the tougher aspects of revision?
True, all of that. I think people try to get out of doing the analysis part that is the heavenly consort of the creative part. We like to say around the office, “Intelligent planning is not the enemy of creative genius.” Well, we don’t really say it, but it is posted on the wall. Point being, if you actually spend some time between drafts in deep-ish analysis of what you have created, you can enjoy the heck out of the next draft as it returns you to the creative problem solving and immersion that many people think is more fun. But we have two halves of our brain for a reason.
– You manage to pack a lot into your day! You are a writer, entrepreneur, an active workshop leader and instructor. How do these different activities feed into each other and you?
I’m pretty bad at relaxing. I like to have a lot of priorities, including my wife and kids, my community, a stab at personal health, etc. and to immerse myself in all of them when I am doing that particular thing. Life tends to spread out wonderfully when we only do this one thing at a time, like talking to Michele. That’s the one and only thing I am doing right now.
-What’s the next project you’re working on?
Book Two! HOW PLOT WORKS: How Book Architecture Can Build Your Strongest Story Ever. If Book One was about organization and revision, in Book Two I promise to reveal the secret to understanding great narrative. I promise that if I can do that I will be done writing books on writing.
–What’s your best writing tip you’d like to share?
Writing is supposed to be a transformation of the self, first. That’s how you choose your subjects, your characters, your formats. That’s how you know how many drafts to engage in — if you are still transforming yourself, you keep going. If you are done getting what you needed personally from it, then you better clean it up in a hurry and get it out into the world, however that happens. That’s also the value of the work. People talk a lot of crap about why they write: they want to change the world; they want to make money, blah, blah. The primary reason is none of those. We want to see if we can do it, and we want to do something we can proud of. Then we have to let the work change us — surprise us and challenge us — that’s when it gets good. Otherwise we should just be doing crossword puzzles.
Stuart is an award-winning essayist and poet, who has taught writing at Grub Street of Boston and Brown University. He holds two masters degrees—one in Literary Aesthetics from NYU,—and one in East Asian Studies from Harvard with a concentration in Medieval Japanese Buddhism. He lives in Rhode Island. Visit his site to learn more.