The Novelist

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.


Posted on May 29, 2011, in Fidelity and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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