One of the most famous quotes for those wishing to become writers comes immediately to mind. It’s from Dorothy Parker: “If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy.”
I don’t know if Ms. Parker had nascent novelists in mind, but it wouldn’t surprise me. It seems like just about everyone, at some point, thinks about writing a novel. This is apt to happen at almost any moment, since there are so many potential triggers. Ask yourself if you’ve ever said something like:
“That’s the worst book I’ve ever read! Even I could write a better one than that without even trying.”
“I’ve got this great idea for a novel, and I’d like you to write it.” <And after constantly being rebuffed:> “Okay then, I’ll write it myself.”
“Honestly, Gertrude, the whole thing was so crazy it oughta be in a novel. Guaranteed bestseller. Guaranteed.”
Please understand, I’m really not trying to be a naysayer. Stop rolling your eyes around in your head; it’s undignified (and it makes me dizzy). Let me clear the haze: Anyone can write a novel. There, I said it. Feel free to quote me.
And it’s true; anyone *can* write a novel. That doesn’t mean anyone will read it, family members and employees notwithstanding. I shouldn’t have to say this, but that’s never stopped me before. There’s a universe of difference between a novel and a “good” novel. If you aspire to write the latter kind, I’m all about being on your side. If all you want to do is cobble together a couple hundred pages of text and call it a story, count me out.
This column, and the herd of related topics which will follow, is aimed at folks who are brave enough to stick a toe in the literary swamp, most of them for the first time. Know that by taking this first, tentative step, you’re joining a magnificent gang. It consists of millions of people, all hoping to turn their ideas into something valuable and enduring.
Alas, most of them will give up before they get to the end of their first draft. There are nearly as many reasons for these failures as there are people doing the failing. Countless millions of manuscripts, mostly unfinished, languish on hard drives, fester in desk drawers and shoeboxes, or decompose under landfills in every corner of the planet.
Stick with me, and I’ll do my utmost to help you avoid many of the pitfalls so many writers drop into. Chances are you won’t write a bestseller; first efforts at anything are rarely good enough to win awards. The important thing is what you’ll learn in the process. Because once you have that first, completed manuscript under your belt, you’ll be on your way. You’ll have a clear idea of what you’re doing and why.
And then, who knows? Maybe your next novel *will* be a bestseller.