by Hugo Terrible
A significant part of the pleasure I derive from reading novels is based on my belief that the author is doing something I cannot do, namely, write novels. To read Martin Amis, for example, is to be reminded on every page that I could never do what he is doing. I could never pull at the little threads of my life, make them dance in print, animate scenes, or force self-reflection, the way that Martin Amis is lauded for being able to do. That realization, that a tremendous gap separates one’s skill level from that of one’s idols, is simultaneously pleasing and devastating. For this reason, I think everyone should try to write a novel.
You should know, I’m not recommending this exercise in humility without having tried it myself; there are several unfinished manuscripts loitering in the scarcely visited corners of my hard drive. Each draft is more pathetic than its predecessor, and all were cooked up during a spell of frantic depressive energy. But, I don’t regret writing any of them, and I don’t consider my time to have been wasted. The advice, “write what you know” goes a long way before your fingers even hit the keys, but it also obliges you to wander introspectively through your memories. Is your life worth something semi-autobiographical? Do you have the chops to pull off a roman à clef?
Attempting to write a novel pries open the doors to a treacherous internal and external world. It’s like visiting the centre of the earth and trying to explain to your friends at the surface, the precise shape of the molten core. Even if you only manage a few pages of prose, that little foray will shock your writerly conscience. Dialogue, character development, setting, finding a voice: each of these takes immense practice. To perfect the novelist’s craft, to assemble with adverbs and adjectives the constellation of life’s energy is a harrowing journey.
Annie Dillard, author of the terrifying but steady Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, gave the following advice about writing: “Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now.” In many cases it is self-discipline for its own sake which powers the trajectory of one’s literary output. Inertia should not be underestimated, and setting the writing ball rolling can work wonders for unblocking bad states of mind. Statistically, your project is doomed, but statistically your project will be therapeutic, so go forth and write all the same.