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how not to write the next great american novel
by kristy kowalske wagner

Experts 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.

Set your alarm thirty minutes early.

Hit snooze four times. Wake up late. Arrive to work late. Boss yells at you. Blame your asinine writing dream.

Brainstorm, brainstorm, brainstorm. Create a million and one ideas.
Dig 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…)

Become 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 writing dream.
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 wine.
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. Repeat. 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.
Become dismayed.
Decide you never really wanted to write about the Renaissance anyway.
Buy a book by a writing “how to” expert. Read the exercises.
Judge them.

Exercise One:
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.

Exercise Two:
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.

Exercise Three:
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.
Immediately purchase another one and repeat the same process.
Don’t take advice from others. Don’t revise. Words are precious nuggets of gold—no one should be allowed to alter them. Not even you.

Kristy Wagner 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.
[ kowalske@excite.com ]

 

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