A girl I went to school with wrote a hugely successful chick-lit novel, sold the movie rights, became a millionaire and a national celebrity after only a few years toiling in a dead-end job and turning (back) to writing in desperation. She told the press that she had bought “one of those ‘how to write a novel’ books” and followed the formula to success.
Now, granted, she didn’t just do that. She had always written and she had always loved playing to an audience. She had written for the local newspaper while in school (I followed in her footsteps there, although with the rival newspaper). At university she was in the improvisational theater group (I followed in her footsteps there too, at the same university, although to a lesser degree). Then, while working in her dead-end job she tried stand-up comedy. This girl is a performer and it served her well.
But that comment about the ‘how-to write a novel” book stuck in my head. We had such similar backgrounds surely that could work for me too?
So I went out and bought “You Can Write A Novel”, a Writer’s Digest publication.
I duly plunged in…and hit the bottom of the pool. The book has sat on my shelf for the past five years. Languished, even.
As a change of pace from Stephen King’s excellent book (and the Isaac Asimov essays and the Ray Bradbury one that I know almost off by heart) I picked up the novel-writing handbook (“YCWAN”) again this morning.
Those other books are light on practical advice (apart from “don’t over use adverbs”), but they lift my heart and send me scurrying for the nearest pen.
YCWAN is full of formulae and diagrams and “cardinal rules” (40 of them. Seriously!) and it depresses the hell out of me.
It makes me think that I could never, ever hope to write a novel, because this guy presents his method for writing a novel the way that HE writes them: very methodically. I will never, ever write any fiction that way (well, OK. Not “never, ever”, but certainly not now).
So I’m going back to Stephen King, in all his wild, profanity-ridden glory.
I won’t throw out the dry, handbook yet, because it may one day come in handy, for polishing and revising. But honestly, I suspect that, like any man, if he’s wrong for me now, he’ll always be wrong for me.