Monthly Archives: May 2011
The novelist, unlike the poet or short story writer, has the endurance of a marathon runner [or a cyclist]…John Gardner, On Becoming A Novelist
When I was a kid writing, the only thing that had an ending was a journal entry. Any short story I tried to write kept wanting to take another breath on a new page. I’d get frustrated because of lack of skill to take that extra breath, so the story or would be novel, would go unfinished. As an adult, my screenplays read more like novels. My film professor suggested for me to “write the novel first, then shoot the film, capitalize on both.” In the MFA program, I tried to extend my repertoire and write shorter pieces. I tried poetry. I tried stream of consciousness. The short story still alludes me. I had to finally take a deep breath, let out a huge sigh, and accept the fact that I’m a novelist. That is where I shine and feel most at home. And it makes sense when I look at the rest of my life.
When I look for parking, I take my time, always nailing the close spot. I take the scenic route home that has less traffic. I prefer to travel by train. While in college, I joined the cycling team. It was my first time cycling, let alone on a collegiate team. I had to choose between short distance speed race training or long distance endurance rides. I felt like I was intentionally demanding my heart to stop by going full throttle in zero to ten seconds on the short distance speed rides, so I went for the longer rides. In the beginning, I’d watch my teammates speed away from our starting point, me trekking along slowly for the first hour or so on long, windy country roads, always the last to get back. A couple of months later, after about 45 minutes into the ride, cycling slow and steady, I began to gradually gain speed as I entered ‘the zone’. I found myself catching up and passing the panting hot shot riders who had left me in their dust cloud (what a thrill that was the first time I passed them leaving my own trail—see ya!).
Endurance, patience, and fidelity are pre-existing qualities that a novelist possesses. The late author of the fantastic novel Grendel, John Gardner speaks to the psychological and mental dynamic that great novelists seem to already possess internally in his book On Becoming A Novelist. According to Gardner, the choice to write novels is not so much an inclination toward ego-centered ambition, but moreso a right fit. After reading Gardner’s summation on what makes a novelist tick, and looking at my own inner psychological & biological rhythm, I was relieved to find that it wasn’t just masochism that drove me to see a story through, no matter if its 200 pages or 400.
Self-assurance is also a ritual the novelist must embrace. Writing a novel can be an exhilarating task, but also long suffering as I watch my writing friends crank out and publish short stories & poems expeditiously. While they begin to accumulate accolades for their writing, it can at times make me feel like I’m riding at the end of the pack while I’m in the throes of a 300 page novel. This is when I have to gather my inner resources and assure myself that a great novel requires the time, skill, care, and steadiness that I put into it. And eventually, a great novel is the reward.
Why I write.
I write well.
I have an endless amount of energy.
I have something to say.
It is important to stay on track when you decide you want to write. What keeps you writing is knowing why you’re a writer. Or an artist, or why you play the guitar in front of the local bus stop. As you can see, my list is not that deep. I can add a few more things, but it’s pretty simple. It took some time for me to simplify & summarize my intentions to tackle such an arduous task as that of a novelist. There is the quality of potency that a clear intention can possess, and that potency can fuel the fire of your creative journey.
I’ve seen many writers stop dead in their tracks and give up completely because the task either seemed too daunting or whatever plans they concocted didn’t work in their favor. We have to remember, the plan is not the goal. I’ve seen writers focus so much of their energy on being published, that once they’re published, and the book doesn’t sell, they don’t write again. They miss that their intention was to “be published.” These writers get their wish, and wonder why nothing else happens. If you don’t put intention into what you truly wish to come to fruition with your writing, it will be in a stasis state. If you’re not clear about what you want to do, you will be frustrated with seemingly puzzling outcomes. I speak from experience.
My advice to myself at this stage of my career as an emerging writer is to make lots of plans. Experiment. If one route doesn’t seem to be opening up, I can always try something different. I can shop one book to agents/publishers, and I can have fun and see what happens by e-publishing another. If I can’t get a job as a writing instructor at the local community college (which was the plan) due to the recent layoffs, then I can teach my own writing workshop. And if that doesn’t keep me excited, then I can check out venues that sponsor book readings and try that route to meet and connect with other writers.
Plans are finicky things. It sucks to know and accept that, but the wisdom to not allow this truth to deter me from the ultimate goal is what sustains my commitment.
The plan is not the goal…Ralph Marston
I have made one huge deadline, and let me say, it is a feeling of exhilaration to have one project out in the world, and another peeking over the horizon. I have learned that the life of a writer means to never stop writing. Of course there is the time to take a vacation, or a good break every now and then (I must say, I haven’t had a vacation for a long time). No matter, break or not, there is always a book pacing back and forth in the waiting room of my right brain, anxious for its name to be called forth on the page.
It is important to recognize that there is a path to publication. For me, I’ve finished one book and it makes sense to keep writing. Publication is only one accomplishment. A writer’s career takes discipline, focus, most often for many of us, sleep deprivation, and as I’ve stated earlier on, a since of fidelity. Fidelity to create a body of work that has meaning, and a body of work that has room to evolve in the quality and uniqueness of my own voice. I have been fortunate enough to have veteran writers embrace my work which gives me the nod that my choice to be an accomplished writer is not a matter of chance. Publishing is not that difficult these days. The priority for me is to publish stellar work. That is what longevity as a writer demands, a challenge I welcome with great joy.
Now that I have one book out of the way, there is the e-book to finish cranking out. I’m excited. And for those following my blog, thank you so much for your comments and dialogue. I’ve made a commitment to keep this blog going for all of us. Writers United!!