Sunday, August 22, 2010

Ego and edits and novels, oh my!

tags: getting published, why write a novel, sacrificing to the novel, Joseph Campbell, the inevitability of a novel's ending, why the beginning of a novel will lead to that ending, cause and effect in the middle of the novel, autobiography, twitter, encouragement in writing, tweet, universality in writing, editing your writing

I was just on twitter.  There, I read "support" tweets to writers from... friends? Followers? Family? Enemies? Then I read some of the writers' work. 

Writers, get serious.  Those who send support tweets to writers, get serious.  Do not encourage people whose work you've never read.  And for the sake of an already endangered species: the novel, please please please do not encourage anyone if you wouldn't pay $10.95 to buy their work. 

And, to-whoot! (An owl's deep tweet.)  Writer, read the first part of your own unpublished novel as if someone else wrote it, and ask if you'd pay $10.95 to read the rest.

Writers who are not serious about their writing just let words pour out all over the page.  Pretty words, sometimes.  But utterly useless, if the writers are serious only about themselves. Here are some of the things I used to write about when I was that kind of writer: "my mean parents, my talent, my earning power, my desire for fame, my speed of writing, my desire to win contests, my sex appeal, my underappreciated dress sense, my friends, my leaving town, my choices, my specialness, etc."

If you are a writer and you are serious only about yourself then that's what your novel-length book is going to be about.  You

Looking at this seriously:

How many pages is your life?  How many stories are in your life?  How many of them would be interesting to other people?  In how many of them can you see the story's ending, and know exactly where that particular story began, and how it got from there, inevitably, to its ending? What parts of your life do you cut out because they have nothing to do with the particular story you've chosen from your life?  What is the universality of the story you have chosen to write about from your life?

Do you see the problem?  It is not impossible to write autobiographical novels.  It is just very, very difficult. And even then, the autobiographical novel will consist of only part of your life.  And if it's factual, what makes it a novel?

Your novel is not "yours".  Once you begin to write it, the novel is more important than you are. Joseph Campbell said that about marriage, "You must sacrifice to the marriage."  Why?  Because it's more important than you, or your feelings, or your ideas, or your wishes for yourself, or what you like for dinner, or your pathos or bathos.  It's more important that your spouse's life, or feelings, or ideas, etc. etc.  A marriage is just bigger.

So is a novel.  Let's paraphrase Joseph Campbell's words. 

"You must sacrifice to the novel."

 You.  Must.  Sacrifice.  To.  The.  Novel.

No ego.  No self-serving.  No thoughts of using the novel to get even with people in real life.  No thoughts of money.  No thoughts of winning contests.  No thoughts of fame.  No  reason to write the novel at all except to be true to something that you, one human being, have given life to: an idea that is bigger than you are.

You.  Must.  Be.  Humble.

This requires you to edit as you go.  Read and re-read.  Change whole pages, whole chapters if necessary.  I dropped eleven chapters of a novel once, and then had to begin it again because what happened in Chapter 12 was really what I was writing about.  Drop what doesn't fit.  Add what must be there.  Ask yourself if you are sacrificing to the novel or being self-indulgent. Be ruthless with your own writing.  Make sure that you are serving the primary meaning of a novel:

 A novel has an ending that justifies its beginning, that is interesting for others to read, and that will strike some chord to strike a chord of recognition in the lives of others. 

Think about that, okay?  A novel's end justifies its beginning. 

Everyone knows that a novel has a beginning, middle and ending.  In fact, people will  groan at you for saying so obvious a thing. 

But if you phrase it like this: A novel has an ending.  The ending justifies the beginning. The middle is the set of consequences caused by the beginning that will absolutely link that ending to that beginning

or  like this:  the ending of the novel exists because the beginning set in motion a series of events that made that ending inevitable

then you will see that there is nothing obvious about beginnings, middles and endings at all.

When next you face a blank screen, don't write one word until you have an idea bigger than you are, one that you feel quite sure will be interesting to other people and will strike a chord of recognition in their own lives. An idea that will create a beginning whose ending you know, and therefore whose middle you know, since it will consist of action and reaction, action and reaction, consequences that are all caused by what happens in the beginning and what will happen at that end.  

Write like that, and your chances of your novel's being published will be vastly increased.

As always, good luck to you, fellow-writers!

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