Of the Making of Books

The first difficult aspect of writing a novel seems to be picking which “how to write a novel” book or books to buy. I had seen one at Waterstones and went back to refresh my memory of the title so I could look for it on Amazon. That was the easy part.

Once I got on Amazon, I found there were loads of others. All of them are claiming, of course, to be the best book on the subject. This, of course, undermined my faith in the first book, which was based entirely on the fact that I had seen it first.

It also caused my fragile confidence to waver anyhow, because if there are enough people to buy all of the “how to write a novel” books, there are an awful lot of people trying to do the same thing I’m doing. And chances are, I’m not better at it than they are. After all, the scramble for readership due to the Malthusian nature of the blogosphere is evidence of this.

Every time I go into a large bookstore I realise just how many books are on the market at any given time. These are the lucky ones – the ones that are not languishing manuscripts in the bottom of drawers or computer files in no need of a printer, or even half-formed ideas in somebody’s head. Most of the time they are not the ones that have been repeatedly returned with a rejection slip.

So I think why bother? After all, my mother thinks I should write short stories and my wife wonders why I’m not sending off more magazine articles. But then I’m not sure there’s any money in the former and it takes ages to the latter published for a very small sum in return. Sadly it seems no different than the music business. Everybody wants a break and so few are talented or lucky enough to get it.

It reminds me of the monthly “Jesus Jam Night” at the Sonshine Inn, the Christian coffee house where I used to be on staff. People would get up on stage all evening. Some were mediocre, some were worse. Many of them did Christian karaoke, using backing tracks to sing somebody else’s song, but not nearly as good. Occasionally a real talent would come along, but they were rare enough that even some of the mediocrity would get picked up for the regular rotation of artists and bands playing the coffee house. I’m evidence of that.

I was going to get back to researching my book, but in my head I’m still playing with some chord changes in my new worship song. Off I go – jack of all trades, master of none.

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4 Responses to Of the Making of Books

  1. susanshehane says:

    As someone who has been down the same path you’re journeying (I’m even a church musician), I’d like to offer you advice if I really had any. It took me five years to write Alabama Listening and another two years in the publishing process (which I won’t go into here). When I first began my book, I had nothing more than an overwhelming need to write it, to find the story. I’ve been writing all my life, but I knew this experience was going to be far more complex than anything that I had undertaken — and far more personal. While I did join the National Writing Project (through Auburn University’s Sun Belt Invitational Writing Project), what really helped me to find the voice I needed — and most of all the heart — came not from teachers or other writers, but from our school secretary (I teach secondary English). She suggested that I write a letter to my father (I knew he would be the central focus of the book), and from there, I was able to tackle the narrative. More than anything, more than a textbook, more than anything anyone can teach you in a class about form and plot and all of that business — you must have heart. You have to be one of the characters in your story. Do you have a particular style that has worked well for you before? Refine it. Make it your own.
    Another suggestion that I have is that while it is good to have a plan (yes, as a teacher I do teach that — as a writer, I know that creative writing works in reverse of how we teach), embed yourself in the story and just see where it takes you. It’s a good idea to know the characters and to have a general idea of where you must go, but other than that, have the courage to find the story. As you write, you’ll find that you’re discovering the truths about the characters you thought you knew.
    What kind of book are you writing?

  2. Dave says:

    I added the italics for you and a link to your book on Amazon.

    I’ve not really written any fiction before, so I don’t have a style yet. I suppose that will be revealed when I begin to write. I’ve tried a couple of sample pieces of dialogue, but they seen very stilted.

    I’m working on a historical novel set around the true story of the Sinking Cane Massacre on 12 March 1864, which occurred at my aunt’s farmhouse and during which she was wounded. My cousin would have been killed, but he was hidden by one of the family’s slaves. The Confederate soldiers who were killed were serving in the same regiment – some even in the same company – with cousins on the other side of my family.

  3. handmaidmaryleah says:

    Dave you need a point of view. Can you write it from the slave’s point of view? or from your cousin’s point of view, because you said they were friends for life after that incident? This story sounds like it is begging for a narrative, see who tells the story the best, maybe its you, to you children, maybe its one of the actual characters? All of that is up to you…
    I cannot wait to read it.
    asking your prayers,
    Mary-Leah

  4. susanshehane says:

    One way to develop a point of view and really get into the character’s mind is to do a diary. I like historical novels set this way.
    You might also try researching newspapers and history books to see what really happened. Don’t hesitate to consult university experts on the subject. I have found they really enjoy sharing their knowledge. You can also give them credit in your book — keep good notes.
    Thanks for the ital and link to my book!

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