cover image Never Say You Can’t Survive: How to Get Through Hard Times by Making Up Stories

Never Say You Can’t Survive: How to Get Through Hard Times by Making Up Stories

Charlie Jane Anders. Tordotcom, $26.99 (240p) ISBN 978-1-250-80001-5

Celebrated speculative fiction writer Anders (Victories Greater than Death) blends personal stories with practical genre fiction techniques in this earnest though overwrought manual for how “to write your way out of hard times.” As she writes at the book’s outset, “Putting any kind of story together makes you a god in your own private universe and grants you control over a whole world inside your own mind, even when the outside world feels like a constant torrent of awfulness.” Originally published on during the height of the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic, these concise essays on writing “as an act of self-preservation” lucidly describe storycraft fundamentals (characters, plotting, worldbuilding) in welcoming, conversational prose, interspersed with anecdotes of the author’s growth from lonely first-grade daydreamer to multi-award-winning author. Anders shows keen trauma awareness, strategizing how writing practices can fit troubled times—from “embrac[ing] uncertainty” to defining success realistically and developing adaptable emotional skills. Unfortunately, the book’s lack of a cohesive through line undermines its authority: both intriguing and problematized elements—such as the genre’s overly Western idea of agency and sweeping statements on writers’ motives—are rarely explored deeply, and playful examples often get belabored, muddling the principles they illustrate. Budding genre writers questioning their voice’s value will appreciate this overview, but quickly need more. (Aug.)