not to write the next great american novel
by kristy kowalske wagner
say to write what you know. Writing the next great American novel is
something I know nothing about. Not writing it is another story.
Follow these strategies closely and you can live in a world of fantasy
and blame, just like me.
your alarm thirty minutes early.
snooze four times. Wake up late. Arrive to work late. Boss yells at
you. Blame your asinine writing dream.
brainstorm, brainstorm. Create a million and one ideas.
in deep. Let them spill over you one by one. Jot them down as quickly
as they come. Four women living in New York City and their audacious
adventures with men, a poor girl in Japan grows up to be a geisha, funny
essays about adolescent atrocities while growing up as a gay teen boy,
a depressed girl barely surviving prep school, a graphic account of
your experience in drug rehab (well, at least a sort-of-true account…)
overwhelmed. Watch television to clear your mind.
Blame your lack of writing on the absurd amount of ideas out there.
Get a job as a middle school English teacher. Take home five hundred
essays a night and lament the fact that next year at this exact same
time you will be faced with five hundred more essays exactly like this
year, only with different names at the top of the page. Scribble in
the margins: off topic, vague, lacking support and elaboration, awkward…
Yell at the walls, the ceiling, the cat, and your husband. Scream to
the writing god, “When will they ever learn style? When will these
students ever learn to put just a touch of pizzazz in their writing?
And what the hell are those elementary teachers teaching them? Do they
even know grammar exists?” Cry. Fling yourself on the floor. Beat
the carpet with your arms and legs.
After grading the essays, apologize to the cat and sit down at the computer
to write. Stare at the screen for eighteen minutes before giving up.
Imagine twenty more years of the same. Blame the students for your lost
Drink. Have a drink to relax. Maybe just another to soothe your mind.
Rationalize your actions. After all, lots of famous writers indulged
from time to time. Have just one more to keep up the little buzz you’ve
got going on. Pick up your pen and write furiously until you run out
of things to rant about or the page becomes too blurry to see.
Read the incomprehensible scribble the next morning. Wonder what the
hell you were trying to say and why your head hurts so much. Blame the
Buy lots and lots and lots of books. Read constantly. Realize the author
you just read is so much better than you and let yourself cry. Cry so
hard your eyes remain puffy for two days. Decide you’ll just read
for enjoyment—not in your pursuit to be a published author. Finish
a novel. Laugh. Huff and Puff. Congratulate yourself. Scream to the
world that you could write such a better book! Read another just to
be sure. Cry. Read just another. Scream. Just one more. Cry. Repeat.
Get really excited about an idea. Write passionately for days. Dream
of your interview with Oprah when she selects your novel for her next
book club. Write, write, write. Imagine the reviews. The New York Times
will be blown away! Write, write, write. Plan your book-signing tour.
LA, NY, Chicago, Miami... Write, write, write.
Stop. Decide it’s rubbish, complete garbage. Question how you
could have ever thought your idea was even the slightest bit creditable.
Berate yourself like the idiot you are. Throw all pages away.
When another author publishes something similar, become outraged.
It was your idea to begin with!
Write only when you feel like it. Wait for inspiration. Relish the euphoric
high. Enjoy the rush. When it fades, put the half-finished story, memoir,
article, or novel in the cabinet with all your other unfinished work.
Go back and reread from time to time. It’s fun to think, “Gosh,
this was pretty good.” Scold yourself for giving up. Condemn your
weak, pathetic nature and your ability to not persevere. Blame your
spirit. Research. Determine a time period for the perfect novel. Decide
on the Renaissance. Read every article you can find. Spend four hundred
hours on the internet. Take notes! You’ll need those details later.
Organize information on note cards. Sketch pictures. Go to several Renaissance
Festivals to saturate yourself in the atmosphere. Drink several frothy
beers, purchase a sword, shield, a few cute outfits, and fairy wings.
Have your fortune told. Ask about the future success of your novel.
If the fortune teller shrugs, dismiss him. He has no cosmic sense at
all. Find another fortune teller. If results are the same become outraged
and tell all the customers in line that it’s all a big hoax. Drink
two more frothy beers. Watch movies. Read every fictional novel set
in the time period. Take more notes. You’ll need them!
Realize two years have passed.
Decide you never really wanted to write about the Renaissance anyway.
Buy a book by a writing “how to” expert. Read the exercises.
Write about a secret you’ve held for a long time, which you have
told no one. What would happen if you revealed it?
Decide that one might work. But, who really wants to know about when
you kissed your best friend’s husband?
Try another exercise.
A family, perhaps one based loosely on your own family, heads off in
the car for a vacation. Describe what happens.
You head to the mountains, find a cozy bar, play pool and have beers.
No, no, no. You drive to the beach. Yes! The beach. Find a cozy bar,
play pool, and have beers. You board a plane to Europe. Oh, the beauty
of Paris, the crumbling castles of Germany. Yes! Then you find a cozy
little pub, play pool and drink beers. Could be a best seller.
Try one more writing prompt.
Spend some time on an elevator, especially if you don’t normally
ride one. Watch body language. If you’re feeling bold, strike
up a conversation.
Realize the author’s ideas are just plain ludicrous.
Throw the book away in disgust.
purchase another one and repeat the same process.
take advice from others. Don’t revise. Words are precious nuggets
of gold—no one should be allowed to alter them. Not even you.
lives in Hendersonville and teaches middle school students. Most of
the time she can be found following the instructions in this article
to a tee.