Chuck Wendig has lately installed himself as the patron saint of aspiring writers, and there are worse muses one could look towards for inspiration. Where elsewhere one is likely to encounter a chorus of “nos,” Wendig unceasingly, resoundingly, shouts “yes,” usually preceded by an expletive or followed by non sequitur about monkeys or hobos. So it is with Wendig’s latest entry in his series of books on writing, 30 Days in the Word Mines (October 2014).
Wendig released his book (quite cleverly, I might add) just a few days prior to the onset of National Novel Writing Month, or “NaNoWriMo,” as it’s more popularly known. (Note: I am not participating.) And the book takes its structure from NaNoWriMo. Each chapter, with the exception of the preface and afterword, is devoted to one day in the month, e.g., Day 1, and so on. The idea is that the reader (who is also, in this premise, writing) will read each page on its assigned day, taking to heart St. Chuck’s advice and thereby making one’s daily word count. I should note that the book can be read straight through in, at most, two hours, and probably less.
As with any book of this sort, the chapters are uneven. Some are nearly non existent, for instance, Day 20, which amounts to a few sentences along the lines of, “You can do this.” The cynic in me whispers that Chuck is just padding here, filling space, but I have nothing but respect for Wendig. If NaNoWriMo is about “yes,” then, giving Wendig the benefit of the doubt, this is really a pep talk intended to get weary writers over the hump. And there is something inspirational about an author addressing you to let you know that you can accomplish something.
Still. Pep only goes so far. My difficulty with books of this sort is that they are long on inspiration, but short on practical knowledge. “Advice” is something of a dirty word where I come from. “A fool and his money are soon parted.” That’s advice. But it doesn’t tell you how to avoid being foolish with your money. There’s no strategy attached. And, thus, its utility is questionable. So, too, with 30 Days in the Word Mines. Wendig dispenses information about pacing, plotting, and so on, but, to this reader, at least, it reads more like advice than “how to.” That said, what NaNoWriMo participant would have time to read at length about dialog or pacing? Presumably participants engaged in that deeper study in preparation for the sprint.
It’s worth considering the origins of this book. 30 Days in the Word Mines reads like Wendig’s blog, in which, between creative vulgarity and manic asides, he advocates on behalf of aspiring writers. Indeed, one chapter near the end refers to itself as “this post,” indicating that much of the book’s material consists of recycled blog posts. NaNoWriMo participants might consider using Wendig’s blog in lieu of this book. There are some editing problems, too; one sentence in the middle of the book drops off mysteriously, missing its second half, and I caught at least three misspelled words. These are hardly major complaints, but one might hope for more careful editing from a book one purchases.
In sum, 30 Days in the Word Mines is a pithy little book that might serve NaNoWriMo participants well, particularly if they’re open minded. I see it as something of a devotional: Crack it open (so to speak; it’s an ebook), read the chapter closely, and extract from it the core of wisdom Wendig embeds in layers of humor and tomfoolery. Recommended for Wendig aficionados and committed NaNoWriMo participants.