Lessons From the Book Project

Editor's note: The Book Project is a two-year program that gives writers the classes, mentorship, and support they need to finish a book-length work. The Book Project is currently accepting applications. Click here for more information. Applications are due June 19.

I asked my graduating cohort to list the things they’ve learned from their two years at the Book Project. Here are their brilliant responses! —Erika Krouse

What I Learned from the Book Project:

Jessica Willingham:

1.      Writing a book makes you a better person. (This is my favorite one, I think about it a lot.)

2.      The first draft is an experiment. Just finish it. There is so much clarity on the other side of a first draft. 

3.      Questions generate plot. Then answer them. Don't be a mystery, don't hold all the wisdom in. 

4.      Word count should match the size of your idea. Don't stretch scenes for a small idea, or condense meaning where it deserves room on the page. 

5.      The first page is a promise. Lead readers to where you want them to go. 

6.      Revision is re-envisioning the piece. 

7.      The only thing readers remember is how you made them feel. Break their hearts. 

8.      The plot is the clothes hanger. It is not sexy, it's functional, and without it the beautiful words are just a pile on the floor. 

9.      Keep going. 

10.   Use Scrivener. 


Sumi Lee:

1.      Keep doing things on your own timeline. It turns out, everyone struggles.

2.      Even though you are adamant about not writing a book on a single topic, you sometimes land on a book idea anyway.

3.      Just because you write nonfiction, that does not mean that the traditional story arc does not apply to you. People still want to hear a well-told story, whether it’s fact or fiction, so you still have to learn the craft of storytelling, character development, creating tension, etc.

4.      You don’t have to write a War and Peace; if you have a teenage romance story in your head that you would enjoy reading, then just write it! Write for fun: what a concept!

5.      You can’t rely on your old tricks of writing beautiful language alone. (Melissa Febos)

6.      I have learned how to write from where I am today, no matter what is going on in my life. Thank you for teaching me this important lesson!


Sydney Fowler:

1.      Finding a writing community with people I trust has been critical to the success of my writing goals.

2.      Talking through parts of my book with someone helps me unlock the story.

3.      Sometimes writing brave characters can inspire you to be a more courageous person.

4.      Writing query letters.

5.      The differences between agents and editors.

6.      It is better to work with your brain/personality/schedule than against yourself.

7.      Writing your first book may take longer than writing future books because you are learning how to write a book at the same time.

8.      Your writing can always be more bold/honest/visceral.

9.      Writing a novel is not a competition.


Twanna LaTrice Hill:

1.      In writing workshops, don’t share the work I am the proudest of, share the work that can benefit from feedback.

2.      Truth and memory in memoir.

3.      The journey of the hero.

4.      The importance of establishing the code in addition to the wound.

5.      Traditional and non-traditional narrative structures.

6.      The narrative arc (Aristotelian).

7.      Dialogue management (there can be too much dialogue, or ineffective dialogue).

8.      The importance of asking dramatic questions.

9.      Submitting to literary journals.

10.   Query letters, pitches and agent meetings.

11.   Writer’s block is survivable.


Stacy Allen:

1.      Stories are ever-evolving. A writer needs to know how and when to cut the story off.

2.      The writer is responsible for the direction of their project and can seek and accept advice from others, but the writer must choose the final direction that feels true.

3.      Don’t workshop a story until I truly know the story because if I do, I will send myself down a rathole.

4.      It’s easier for me to restructure and revise a story if the story is written in scenes.

5.      Story endings that resonate are hard work and cannot be written unless I truly know the story’s meaning.

The above writers will be reading their work at Lit Fest on June 6, 2021 at 4:30 pm. Register here to listen!