Writing the Next Great American Novel
Podcast Audio Link: Click here.
Podcast Transcript: Hi, genuine writers! This is Innovative Editing’s Jeannette DiLouie welcoming you to episode #18 of The Genuine Writer Podcast. We keep things short, sweet and to the point here so that you can learn what you need to learn and get back to writing already.
Today’s episode – which is all about writing the next great American novel – is sponsored by Not So Human, the first book in the five-part Faerietales series that follows Sabrina Johnson’s flight from Lancaster County, PA, to Glasgow, Scotland. Along the way, she’s only two wings ahead of the Human Preservation and Advancement Committee, a faerie-hating organization that’s pegged her as their #1 mark. And they won’t rest until she’s properly penned in one of their cages. You can find this full-throttle adventure on Amazon by searching for Not So Human.
Or, if you’re a cheapskate like me, I’ll include a WattPad link in the description section below, where you can read it all for free.
Not to toot my own horn, or anything, but it’s a really fun read, jam-packed with great characters, all-too-believable villains, action and twists you won’t see coming. Then again, not to disparage my own work, but it’s not the next great American novel. I fully recognize this, and I’m fine with it. My intention never was to write the next great American novel. And I don’t think that most of my fellow Americans should be trying to write any such thing either.
If it happens, it happens. But it shouldn’t be your end-all be-all of writing.
If you’re British, I would caution the same thing about not trying to write the next great British novel. For that matter, I don’t care where you live… Shooting to change the face of your national – or global – literary community is probably going to be a waste of time. This isn’t an insult to you, for the record. If anything, it’s an insult to the literary community. Let me explain what I mean…
You see, I was an English major in college. Actually, I started out as an English education major, but that’s not what I graduated with and the story of how and why that was is neither here nor there. So moving on… As an English major, I was exposed to a lot of literature. Shocking, I know. Though I had already read great works like The Hunchback of Notre Dame – which is MUCH better than the Disney version, by the way – The Hobbit, The Scarlet Letter, Uncle Tom’s Cabin and numerous works of Shakespeare, to name a few, I was now exposed to Frankenstein and Jane Eyre, two truly phenomenal works… and a whole list of other works I would rate a whole lot lower.
You might be surprised at the list I wasn’t even close to being impressed by. Either that or you’re not going to recognize them at all:
D.H. Lawrence’s Sons and Lovers
Earnest Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls
Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse
Thomas Hardy’s Jude the Obscure
Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness
Kate Chopin’s The Awakening
I’m sorry, but I don’t understand how in the world Sons and Lovers especially should belong in every English major’s repertoire. It was a book about a woman who was obsessed with her son, and a son who was a jerk to his girlfriend while worshiping some other chick. I don’t care if it was touching on subject matter that was much more taboo back then. That alone doesn’t make it a worthwhile read.
And Earnest Hemingway. Oh. My. Word. Please just put me to sleep. A whole conversation between two characters in For Whom the Bell Tolls goes something like this:
Character 1: “I’m an ugly woman.”
Character 2: “No. No, you’re not.”
Character 1: “Yes, I know I’m ugly.”
Character 2: “No, you are not an ugly woman.”
Character 1: “Yes. Yes, I know I am an ugly woman.”
Character 2: “You are not ugly.”
I don’t remember how many times they go back and forth like that. I blocked it from my memory. I wish I could block that whole book from my memory. It crawled like a snail. No, a slug. Boring. Boring. Boring slug. And for what? I could have gotten all the facts he puts into that story from a much more succinct and less slug-like history textbook.
You could argue that’s just how they wrote back then, except that there are plenty of Hemingway’s contemporaries or predecessors who wrote much more engaging and thought-provoking pieces. Like Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott. He was writing around the turn of the 1800s, 90 years or more before Hemingway hit the scene. Yet he’s got a whole lot more worthwhile information to share.
Or how about Charles Dickens? “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” Dickens was exceptionally wordy, probably due to the time period he was writing in, and he does give way too much detail. Yet he was still a master story teller who wove in very real problems into his work that transcend time.
Admittedly, bringing up Sir Walter Scott and Dickens shows that, sometimes, the list of literary greats is accurate. Sometimes, whoever’s in charge of compiling those expensive, impossibly heavy analogies of who to read in English 207 and 306 don’t fail miserably. But sometimes they do, and it’s enough to call into question the whole entire process – or why anyone would strive to be a literary great if all that status is going to do is prompt students to look up the Cliff’s Notes version to avoid being bored into a coma.
That’s point #1 I’d like to make against writing the next great American novel. Here’s point #2. The chances of you reaching that goal are exceptionally small. How many novelists exist today, and how many make it into college course syllabi? The answers are, respectively, way too many and not many at all.
I will admit that small chances alone should never be enough to make you give up a dream. But when you combine them with point #1 and point #3, I’m genuinely hoping you set this goal aside altogether, accepting that you’ll make it if you make it and you won’t if you won’t…
Point #3, for the record, is that you should never write for the sole reason of becoming famous or respected. That can be one of your reasons, and it’s not a bad reason when it’s accompanied by a list of other motivations. But writing just to impress other people isn’t going to end in fulfillment, as far too many “literary greats” have found out the hard way.
Instead, write primarily because you have something to say, or because you love to write, or because you want to make a difference. You can tell that someone like Bernard Shaw loved to write (possibly just because he loved to read the sound of his own voice, but still), and he became famous. Harriet Beecher Stowe wanted to make a difference, and she became famous. And Toni Morrison had a message to share, and guess what… People now read her work in college classes. Her books can be found on “Great American Novels” lists all across the internet.
But it does seem like the people who write first and foremost to feel better about themselves see their own personal, nonfiction stories end sadly. I’ve seen it with people I’ve met face to face who were miserable human beings due to their desperation to be respected; and I could name you plenty of big-name individuals who didn’t have happy endings despite the literary success they did succeed in obtaining.
In the end, you have to write for less shallow reasons. Otherwise, you might as well just not write at all.
We’ll officially close this week’s episode on that hopefully thought-provoking note. Thank you for tuning in to The Genuine Writer Podcast. It was wonderful to have you here, and I’ll catch you all next week. Until then, very happy – and fulfilling – writing.