How to Write a Great Novel — a fast twitch answer to the question

Recently I linked via Facebook an article on“How to Write a Great Novel”.

Then I had someone message me, “Sure seems a messy process! How do YOU do it?”

First of all, I never set out to write a Great Novel. That’s a value judgment for reviewers and readers. I set out to write about interesting people in interesting situations in my voice using my imagination.

I did the years–decades–of staring at the white sheet of paper, then the blank computer screen–and wondering how every writer I admired (and some I didn’t) wrote, and read endless interviews and features, the beginner’s drudgery of finding inspiration and hope in another’s work habits.

Finally the fully-loaded and tuned imagination finds the individual voice and such articles on other authors’ working methods become minor curiosities.

Practically, I don’t do research, unless it happens when walking around and I encounter something and make a literal or mental note of it. If I write something that requires looking up, then I dump it and imagine something else. In my work, imagination always wins over facts. Reality is a starting point, not the main point.

After all the thinking and noting is done, if the actual book takes more than three months to write or is over two hundred pages, it’s too long. I have fast twitch muscles. Also, if the work doesn’t flow and I have to gnaw at it too much, means the subject, the characters, the story, is not yet mine. I allow it incubate some more, or I just let it go. If it wants to come back later on down the line, I’ll be here. If I’m not, it’ll find someone more suitable.

To expand on this. I’ve always got several books going at once, so if one refuses to budge or is insistently unripe, I shift to another. Let my subconscious fiddle with the problem while I word-word elsewhere until it comes tapping me on the shoulder and I say, Ah yes. Welcome back.

I have no time for writers who say, Doing this writing stuff is so hard. Then go be a trash collector, a waiter, or a middle manager. Do something that you don’t find so hard.

An empty page is a playground where anything is possible.

I don’t work at writing. I have long defined work as doing something when you would rather be doing something else.

There seems to be a lot of academic, labor intensive types in this article. As though if it is not hard work, it doesn’t have much chance at being serious. Pain is not gain. It is pain.

I hope that answers the question. If it doesn’t, it’s all the answer I have at this moment. (Or it is as deep as I choose to dig into this particular subject.) I prefer to spend my time in wonder, not thinking process and chin-stroking “aren’t I interesting in how I do my writing”. That’s the least amazing part of the imagination.

Imagination full-loaded

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6 Responses to “How to Write a Great Novel — a fast twitch answer to the question”

  1. Eduardo says:

    Thanks Vincent. I found this more useful and encouraging than the article in question. And a very quotable line – “pain is not gain. It is pain.” (7 words against 2000 years of tradition/education/conditioning…)

  2. admin says:

    Thanks for taking the time to read & comment. This pain/gain enlightenment came to me many years ago when I was in competitive swimming, and the coach was driving me (and everyone else on the team) “You have to go beyond the pain barrier” to succeed. And yet in biology I was learning that centuries of evolution had given us survival mechanisms and pain was one of the biggies. It’s embedded in human genes: avoid pain in order to survive. From then on, I have believed when hearing that cliché “No Pain No Gain” my biology based reply: Pain, no gain. ;-}

  3. Saskia says:

    Going with the flow, what’s more your own flow! This is very cool. I’m not a believer in pain either (or should I say not any more, as my catholic upbringing extolled suffering’s virtues throughout my childhood and adolescence), and it’s always great to see people actually practising it AND making a living (So called realists try to tell you that’s impossible).
    Thanks for the enlightening read…

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