As a budding but unsuccessful writer of long standing, I turn to Writer’s Digest for the pro-tips that I hope will transform me from a perennially-rejected shlub to a guy who has to fight off literary chicks with a stick. It is there you’ll find helpful articles such as “5 Things to Stop Doing If You Really Want to Finish Writing Your Novel,” which contains gem-like nuggets both physical (Don’t overdose on caffeine) and metaphysical (Stop trying).
“There . . . their . . . they’re.”
But every now and then I get the sense that the writer guys and gals at Writer’s Digest are running a Bernie Madoff-like scam; they say they know how to finish a novel and get it published, but I’ve never actually heard of any of them. Could it be . . . no it couldn’t. But then again, it must be–they’ve figured out a foolproof way to make money as writers; viz., get paid to tell wannabe writers how to write–even if they’re not successful writers themselves! They don’t need to write novels.
Unlike many of the Writer’s Guild writerly advice writers, I’ve actually finished two novels and somehow managed to (sort of) get them published. I know you’ve never heard of them, much less read them, but don’t they count for something?
Thanks–I’m glad you agree. So to supplement Writer’s Guide’s list, here are Five Other Things to Stop Doing if You Want to Finish Your Novel:
1. Don’t Believe Your Own Jacket Blurb: Writer’s Guide tells you to “Stop the Inner Critic’s crazy rants,” but this is a problem not shared by the 158 million out of 316 million Americans who, as a Random House editor once told me, want to write the Great American Novel. No, their problem is they can’t stop the sound of blurbs from the back covers of their as-yet unwritten first books from resounding through the empty corridors of their minds: “A stunning debut,” says one from the Times Literary Supplement. “The voice of a new generation,” says an imaginary review in The New York Review of Books. “I read this book and it had nothing to do with sheep,” says a writer for Sheep Farmer Magazine, the Bible of the American wool ‘n mutton industry. Blame that one on the publicist.
2. Stop Smoking Pot: Pot smokers make record albums, not novels. This is because the hallucinogenic properties of marijuana operate on the side of the brain you don’t use to write, I forget which one it is. In fact, loss of elementary motor skills may force you to abandon pad and pencil or your computer for a voice-activated tape recorder of the sort that recorded this first draft of a coming-of-age novel set in the late sixties:
TEST ONE, TWO. OK SO THERE’S THIS DUDE AND HE’S LIVING WITH SOME GUYS IN LIKE BERKELEY. AND HE FALLS IN LOVE WITH THIS CHICK WHO’S ANOTHER GUY’S GIRLFRIEND. THINGS GET KINDA GNARLY BUT IT ALL WORKS OUT. THE END.
3. Don’t try to write like your favorite author. This is a common mistake, often driven by an innocent desire to succeed, less frequently an attempt to surface to the top of the slush pile with a can’t-miss thriller like “Moby Dick II.” While it may be difficult at first to resist the undertow-like force of a great writer’s influence on you, simple daily exercises can help “unblock” your native talent. Try writing these transgressive variations on famous opening lines 100 times each morning before your coffee: “It wasn’t a dark and stormy night.” “It wasn’t the best of times, on the other hand it wasn’t the worst of times.” “Don’t call me Ishmael.”
4. There is no number 4.
Oh, THAT Henry Miller.
5. Stop having sex. I know, I know–you figured you’d get into the writing game so you could boink a bunch of Barnard girls (and try to say that five times fast) who want to hop into bed with a famous writer. You figured it was as easy as Henry Miller–the writer, not Henry Miller, the plumber, or Henry Miller the life insurance salesman or–you get the point. Sex is great, don’t get me wrong, but in all your life have you ever been a part of a post-coital conversation like this:
He: Oh man.
He: Was it . . .
He: I mean, did you . . .
She: Oh, YES.
He: (proud, almost smug now). Really?
He: So . . .
She: It was like a rocket taking off.
He: Like . . . for an unmanned mission?
She: No . . .
He: A weather satellite?
She: No . . .
He: A commercial space flight?
She: No, it was more like the one where the thing exploded and all those people died.
He: The Challenger?
She: Yes, that one.
He: (beat) Love you.
She: Love you too.
(kiss–he gets up)
She: Where are you going?
He: I feel like banging out a chapter of a historical novel I’m working on.
He: It’s set in the early days of the Gerald Ford presidency.
She: You wouldn’t . . .
He: Don’t worry, it won’t be a roman a clef.