My writing mentor believed in simplicity. He believed in the relentless drive forward, a flood of words, and moments of pure inspiration. As his philosophy towards the art of writing was equally simple, relentless, and inspired.
“The secret to becoming a great writer can be broken down into three crucial steps: Ass in chair. Hands on keyboard. Write the damn book.”
For a great many years I believed this to be true, exhausting hundred of would-be stories and chapbooks that to this day remain half-finished relics I cannabilize from time to time when I begin yet another could-have-been project.
It took one book and one move to realize how ridiculous it is to believe that powerful, moving fiction can be composed and imagined simply by sitting.
There is wisdom there – the belief that greatness aligns with sheer determination. In Nike’s terms, just do it.
But there still needs to be purpose, direction, and ultimately, an awareness. I know what I am writing. I have outlined the plot, the scenes, each beautifully illustrated in an excel document to keep me on task. I have composed pages that describe the past, present, and future within and without each character. I have explored formats, fonts, and movements. I have analyzed tension, and learned how to manipulate suspense softly.
I have forgotten something, however. That this effort and this text does not exist for me. It persists, lingers, and grows for one person and one person only: my reader.
My text is not mine. It does not belong to me. It belongs to a future entity, someone I only imagined, that I glimpsed at through the cracks of a local bookstore and cafe.
The first and last step in composing a novel does not reside within me, my work, or my computer screen. It belongs to my reader. Who is she/he? What will they imagine, inspire, realize within my words?
How to write a novel? The first step: know your reader, love them, and be prepared to give them your words freely so that they can be reimagined.
The purpose of it all, the overarching why of why we write and what we write for lies in our readers, in a distant third perspective that will take the many parts and pieces I have awkwardly stitched together and grant it coherency, purpose, and above all, meaning.
Who is your reader? I try to keep mine a desperate secret.