Breaking out as a novelist
I’ve been reading "Writing the Breakout Novel" for a while now and have been meaning to talk about it. But till today, I didn’t have the perfect opening. And the opening was provided by the book itself.
We didn’t buy "Writing the Breakout Novel" – somebody was kind enough to send it to Laurie as a gift I had heard about Donald Maass (of course :p) but wasn’t really interested in the book at the time we got it. I was in the middle of editing my novel "Honest, the Martian Ate Your Dog" and a book on writing wasn’t going to be much use to me (or so I thought – shows how much I knew :p) But then I began thinking about restructuring my novel again and that was when I decided to come back to Maass’ book.
I read some reviews of the book online and most of the people who blogged about it seemed to be rather negative in their opinion. They thought that Donald Maass was giving a by-the-numbers solution to writing and that it wasn’t a workable solution. Having read the book (or at least the first three chapters) myself, I don’t see it as a checklist approach. Sure, Donald provides checklists at the end of each approach but I don’t believe he actually wrote the book thinking that you’d take the checklist and check each item off as you wrote the book :p I take the book more as a reference work – take out of it what is useful and don’t worry about the rest. So far, it has proven to be pretty useful to me and I might even write a blog entry or two about the most important things that the book taught me.
However, what I wanted to comment on was something that Donald mentions towards the end of chapter three. He asks, "Why do you write? If it is for money or fame, you are writing for the wrong reasons." (I’m paraphrasing him here.) I agree with the sentiment (to an extent) but can’t help thinking cynically whether all agents do the same thing – do they represent a client only if they are utterly convinced of the worthiness of the project or do they also look at how well the book will do financially? If all agents and publishers took on projects just because they loved them, I have a feeling that we’d wouldn’t have so many truly terrible books published :p
Sure, I love my work. I am so lazy that I probably wouldn’t write unless I had to write. Most of my novels start because the characters get in my head and keep doing stuff and I have to put everything they do on paper or I won’t have any rest :p But I’ve also discovered that what they do isn’t terribly interesting – that I might have to spend some time in beating them into shape and getting them to do stuff in a fashion which is more literarily satisfying So why would I go to all that work if all I wanted was to write? There has to be something else – whether it is the desire to have other people enjoy what you’ve written or a desire for fame or money or for beautiful women (or men depending on you inclinations) to fall at your feet or to offer various body parts (hopefully still attached to the rest of the body) to be signed. There has to be more. At least for me. I just can’t see myself writing just because the characters are so compelling. Well, I can, but then there is no impetus for me to do anything more with the story – to polish it, to refine it, to make it actually ready for publication. At least, that’s how I see it