Education

The Science of Writing

East Bay local Stuart Horwitz shares his secrets to writing a successful novel

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Does he contradict himself? Very well, Stuart Horwitz contradicts himself. Like all things and people that contains multitudes, the uninitiated may not easily understand how Horwitz, a practicing Buddhist with a deep and abiding faith in the mysteries of the universe, has made a living out of designing systems of order. But seen from up close, where one can suss out all the angles and the intersections, it all starts to make sense.

I first encountered Horwitz in a class he taught at the now defunct continuing ed department at Brown. As a writer locked in a Sisyphean struggle with a nonsensical novel-in-progress (or stagnation, as the case may have been), I was intrigued by his course. Called “The Book Architecture Method” (BAM, for short), the description promised that Horwitz, a principal of a developmental editing and writing firm, had developed a method for revision, for getting unstuck. Although it’s in my nature as a so-called “creative” person to get puffed up at the notion that anyone can tell me how or what I need to be doing, I found myself drawn in from the very first day, when some of Horwitz’s theories came into focus.

BAM combines concrete action steps with exploratory exercises, all relying on some basic building blocks – Horwitz speaks about “series,” “scenes,” and “iterations” instead of the vague and all encompassing “plot.” He asks writers to map out their books from memory, and then go back and pore over that map for clues about where, and how, their ideas might need strengthening. He teaches writers to identify the importance of change, of forward motion, of planting talismans and breadcrumbs for the readers to help build suspense and engagement.

Essentially, the most important thing a writer should know about BAM is that it is very different than a formula. It shares absolutely no DNA with those gimmicky, prescriptive things peddled in the “how to” genre. On the contrary, it’s a method. Horwitz’s method offers a scaffolding that allows his students – both in class and as readers of his new book Blueprint Your Bestseller, now available from Penguin/Perigee – to grow in their own way. And this is where I made the mistake when I sat down in class thinking that structure and creativity were contradictory concepts. They’re not.

“I could tell you weren’t impressed,” he chuckles over coffee in Providence’s Wayland Square, steps from the offices of his firm, Book Architecture, which he shares with his wife, Bonnie Kane, a psychotherapist.

He knows better now, of course, and I plied him for his secrets. It turns out that like the struggling scribes he now helps, Horwitz himself started out working on an angsty autobiographical novel. He said he realized that as he progressed with the novel and his studies – he holds two master’s degrees, one in East Asian Studies and one in Literary Aesthetics – he had a knack for structure. “It was eerily photographic,” he says, noting that he could recall from memory different patterns and benchmarks (later named the series, scenes, iterations, etc.) across many mediums.

It was after recognizing these encoded elements that were common to successful storytelling that Horwitz really got to work applying and refining the method. Working in the Newport area as an event planner for many years while simultaneously building Book Architecture, he saw that the idea wasn’t going to leave him alone anytime soon. A course he taught at Grub Street in Boston offered him the chance to organize his research and experience into a didactic form. Eventually, he devoted himself to the firm and its method full time. Now, with his own book launched, Horwitz has embarked on a two-year-long North American tour.

The Tiverton resident loves the adventure of the road (“I’d probably stay out there forever if I didn’t have a wife and kids that I really love,” he jokes of Kane and his two daughters and sometimes-assistants, Bodhi and Fifer), and embraces the certainty that things can and will often go wrong. But true to his trust in the universe, not only does he fully expect things to get weird – he’s okay with that. As we’re talking, I realize that this is that perfect intersection of the methodology and madness that Horwitz embodies. Whether it’s a missing USB cable or an unruly, nascent novel that’s snaking around like aimless kudzu, he’s up for the challenge of finding – if not forging – those connections.
Blueprint Your Bestseller is available online and at independent stores nationwide. More information about Horwitz, the firm, and the book can be found at his website.