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Monday, March 13, 2017

A Novel Truth

Chris Gaines was a middle-aged teacher at a creative writing class back in Texas. Rumpled shirt, tan corduroys. Wore suede chukka ankle boots, had the customary Friday Night Lights beer gut. Gave us one of the best definitions of a novel I've ever heard. He even made us get out our pens and notebooks to prepare ourselves to record the most insightful truth for writers of all time. Are you ready?

Here is his insightful gem:

"A book (or novel) is nothing more than a bunch of pages filled with words."

I know what you're thinking. This is a joke, right?

Wrong.

Mr. Gaines was serious and in his own way, Gaines was a genius. He was trying to impart something important to the beginning writer. If you compare yourself to Stephen King, or John Grisham, you're dead before start. You'll freeze up and justly so. Your first-time attempt can't be as good as theirs because they're masters at writing. But your first-attempt might be as good as their first-time attempt. Maybe even better. But the real truth is, it doesn't matter.

He told the class this: "Pay attention to the student who drops on my desk a three-hundred page manuscript by the end of the semester. If I had to bet who out of the class will make it as a writer, he or she would be my number one pick."

How can he say that without even judging the quality of the work? Crossing the finishing line reveals more about the character of the writer than any specific writing sample ever could.

Mr. Gaines, with his down-to-earth logic was attempting to demystify the novel for us newbies. He was trying to get us to remove it from the lofty perch we had placed it upon.

Think about it.

If you were to make a decision to complete a marathon, would you go find one tomorrow and jump right in? No. You'd pick a date a year in advance, and then you'd start training, a little bit every day, or every other day. You'd start off running/walking a mile. And when your lung capacity increased, you'd stretch it to two miles. After several weeks, you might find yourself running five or six miles three or four days a week! Imagine that. Others would look at you and say, "Well, sure. He's a runner," much the same way we look at published authors and say, "Well, sure. He's a writer."
A first-time novel doesn't have to be good, it just has to be.
Become like a freight train and write with abandon! Write without looking back. Set a target for yourself, a weekly goal, something easy for you to achieve, then increase it as you gain proficiency.

Never ever judge the work as you go along. That's like starting your marathon training, and, after having to walk after the first mile, giving up. It makes total sense for you to have to walk, there's no shame in it. You simply haven't developed the lung capacity yet.

Writing is no different. You can't be expected to write like Hemingway the first hundred pages, because at that point, even Hemingway didn't write like Hemingway! What Hemingway did do, and you can too, is stick with it. That's the difference between a wisher and a doer.

It's easy to do if you keep the truth in front of you: A book is nothing more than a bunch of pages filled with words. You can write a bunch of pages, can't you?

Sure you can.

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