Canadian speculative fiction novelist Mark A. Carter gives his two cents worth about useless, dilettante, novelist "wannabes" who think that writing is merely tripping the light fantastic, and about disingenuous, intimidated, and rude people who discover that he is a novelist.
Writing novels for a living is not for the meek. It is not for the mild. It isn't for milquetoasts who want to punch in at nine and punch out at five. Read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, by Robert M. Pirsig, to garner some insight into the razor's edge between insanity and success that writers walk in their obsessive quest for good writing. Also read The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner, by Alan Sillitoe, to get a feeling of what it is like to live the life. Like running, it isn't easy. And it isn't romantic. It is hard work physically and psychologically, and painful. That hard work goes greatly unrewarded, and may go unrewarded for years. For those deluded individuals who think that their first effort, their great American novel, is going to make them millions, think again. You are far more likely to ignite your farts and launch yourself to the moon than to succeed at this difficult craft.
John Dos Passos put it well in Manhattan Transfer. He wrote: "Life ain't all beer and skittles, Rosie." Well, neither is the art of writing novels for a living. It is all consuming and requires dedication and sacrifice. If you're not willing to work like a monk in his cell at the monastery for years, without reward, and that includes getting those sheep skins, then don't start. Do something else. Sell out and do something mundane and practical that generates a weekly paycheck.
And for those of you who think they are writers merely because they have a computer with a word processing program, think again. These hardware and software wonders have merely replaced typewriter, whiteout, scissors, and tape. But they don't make you a writer. If you continue to believe that this technology makes you a writer, see a psychologist. You need help. You're delusional. These modern things are merely tools.
People react in two different ways when they discover that I write novels for a living. They either accept the news or reject it. What I like to hear is: "Where can I buy your books?" I tell them to go to my website at markacarter.com which, of course, is where you are right now. I also tell them that my books are available at Amazon.com and at BarnesandNoble.com. And they are happy with that. They are usually professionals in their fields and treat me like the professional I am in my own. I suppose it takes one to appreciate one. And, for the most part, they have been accepting, generous, and kind. Thanks. Whereas, the people who reject the notion of me as a novelist come in four flavors all of them abnormal. I could talk at length about their psychopathology, but that is another story. Instead, let me give you four typical examples of their odd demeanors aimed at discrediting me, devaluing the craft, smothering me with prostitute flattery, and otherwise just being out there in Cloudcuckooland, to coin a term from The Birds by Aristophanes.
The first rude thing that people say when they find out that I write novels for a living instead of doing something mundane like lifting front end struts in a car factory, which I have done, by the way, is utter the question: "Are you published?" It's a fantastic put down, isn't it? I don't ask them if they really do what they say they do. Of course, I'm not arrogant enough to say something that arrogant, diminishing, and judgmental. But yes, Virginia, people actually do buy my books. And guess what? I get paid a royalty for every sale. I'm staring at the framed photocopy of my first royalty check, a souvenir of when it all began, which hangs on the wall above and behind my computer, as I type this web page. After all, who would work for free? And yes, despite what you may think, writing is work. Yep, ah ha, there you go.
I meet people all the time who couldn't write their way out of a paper bag if their lives depended on it. Yet, when they find out I'm a novelist, they have the arrogance to say, "Oh, I should write a novel too," as if writing novels is the easiest thing in the world, and anybody can do it. What planet are these people from? They assume my novels are all about me, so theirs would naturally be about them. And, of course, that's got to be easy. No. Writing a novel is not easy. It's complicated on several different levels, if done well. It requires education, orchestration, organization, and perseverance to name a few things. And oh, by the way, that story about yourself is autobiography not novel.
Funk & Wagnalls Standard College Dictionary defines the novel as:
|A fictional prose narrative of considerable length, relating a series of events or circumstances in a self-consistent sequence incorporating some overall pattern or plot, and usually displaying the thoughts and sensations as well as the acts of the characters.|
Most people are hard pressed to string three correct sentences together let alone to write one typed page or roughly 300 words. And they are literally dreaming about writing anything of novel length. By the way, Hephzibah of Heaven, my first romance, is 132,000 words long. Just so you know. So, knock yourself out. Don't merely talk about it. Talk is cheap. Do it. Write your novel. The following is a word count guideline to assist you:
|novel||40,000 words and up|
|novella||17,500 to 40,000 words|
|novelette||7,500 to 17,500 words|
|short story||under7,500 words|
Agents and publishers have specific word count ranges and requirements beyond these general definitions. Always check the submissions page and write for the requirement.
When people find out that I write novels, they also say, "I have to read your books." And I just smile at them because I don't believe them. I'm not twisting their arm to read my books. I have had to read a lot of books in my time at university. Those books were actual required course reading. But I despised reading the stuff, went out of my way to read anything but those books, and never said, I have to read those books." When people say it, I know they are being disingenuous. In other words, they are lying, and are too ignorant and stupid to realize how transparent they are. Plus, I can check to see whether they actually buy my stuff or not. Oops. Caught you.
But the line that chaps my ass the most when people discover that I write novels, and surely assumes that I must read minds, is: "Would you have written anything I have read?" Now, if that isn't putting the cart before the horse, I don't know what is. Cause and effect are effect and cause in the mental microcosms of these ignorant and snotty people. How the Hell would I know what they have read, or whether they can even read? Reading, especially reading out loud, is a dying skill, as is common sense. The minds of these people are truly out there like Pluto and its cousins in the Kuiper Belt and the Oort Cloud.
Stupidity is a big turn off no matter how physically beautiful and rich you are. Read Hephzibah of Heaven to find out why tattoos turn me off, as well.
And there is no free lunch. There is no skipping to the head of the line. If you talk big about becoming a writer, but don't want to work at it, don't want to get an education, and clearly are a seven and a half watt bulb in a hundred watt literary world, stick to your day job nailing pressboard boxes together, and be grateful that you have any job at all. For you, a pedestrian existence is as good as it gets.
If, on the other hand, you have a bona fide interest in becoming a writer, let alone a novelist, and you are smart and imaginative, equip yourself with the tools of the trade. Get yourself a formal education. There are Creative Writing, Comparative Literature, and English Literature programs at colleges and universities around the world. And if you can't attend, for whatever reason, there are all kinds of self help books out there, such as they are. If you want to write fantasy, I recommend Anatomy of Criticism by Northrop Frye on romance. I also suggest that you read The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien, which is a perfect example of the genre, and Tree and Leaf also by J.R.R. Tolkien for the theory behind fantasy.
But a word to the wise: don't start this arduous, academic journey unless you have a fire in your belly to express yourself in words, and an imagination that stokes the flames. Creativity cannot be taught, only disciplined, educated, and pointed in the right direction. So, by all means, be who you were meant to be. Enroll. Read. Write. Garner some polish. Hone your craft. And share your scribbling with the world. Let your words dance, baby. Trip the light fantastic. Ars Longa. Vita Brevis. Do. Be. Do. Be. Do.
Now you know.
Copyright © 2009 - 2012 Mark A. Carter. All Rights Reserved.