Create a canon to rival Dostoevsky’s in just six months – here’s how…

28 Jul

Shamed by the small size of your œuvre? Want to create a body of work like Dostoevsky’s without having to work out? In my five star-rated, best-selling new self-help book, I tell you how you can write a million words of high quality prose expressing ideas with philosophical muscularity in just six months, without even having to think about it. Yes, that’s right, a million words in six months! 

Since dipping a toe into the waters of the on-line writing community a year or so ago, I’ve met some great people, many of them here on WordPress. I’ve also encountered a great deal of foolishness, for want of a more critical word. And on another social network, I’ve found myself deluged with a relentless tide of self-promotion that has made it impossible to tell if anything interesting is being said. In amongst its flotsam and jetsam, I’ve managed to catch hold of the occasional item, the intellectual equivalent of driftwood.

For some years, I was a member of a writing group, here in my home town. I’d grown a little tired of writing in a vacuum and wanted to meet like-minded individuals, off whom I could bounce ideas. I was introduced to a number of writing friends with whom I remain in contact, although I’m no longer a member of that or any other group. It was also my initiation into some rather extraordinary ways of thinking. Apparently, you can write novels even if you don’t read, plays if you don’t watch them, poems if you’ve never read any… Well, yes, you can but on the evidence that I saw, they’ll be dire. And, supposedly, you don’t need to revise or redraft. The last member to join before I left brought along some of his work. We made some suggestions. He rejected them all out of hand. He’d produced his last novel in just one month, he informed us, and he never revised or redrafted. Hmm…

I keep encountering this idea that a novel of quality can be written in 30 days. I mean, why would you even want to? And why 30 days? Why not 25 or 40? The latest message-in-a-bottle washed up by social media on the shores of my computer was news of a self-help book, suggesting that ‘you too’ could write ten thousand words in a day. In the blurb for the book, its principal advocate claimed to have experienced an insight of Damascene proportions. A novel can be written in – yes, you’ve guessed it – 30 days. This and other endorsements were littered with mistakes. The chief endorser even had a punctuation error in the title of her novel on Amazon, for God’s sake. It’s entirely possible that this self-help book is filled with great insights, but its central premise is mistaken, such errors would suggest.

I could write ten thousand words a day if I wanted to. I could write a novel in a month. I can guarantee you that it wouldn’t be Crime and Punishment, though. It would be unadulterated trash. I have written quickly as a journalist. And there’s a word for the end product. It’s called hackwork. Oh, heaven help us – we’re all going to drown in an ocean of words, and most of them won’t be very good…

So, would you like to know the secret of writing a good book? Read my five star-rated, best-selling new self-help paragraph and find out how! Spend many years reading a vast quantity of well-written books. Dedicate many more years to learning and practising your craft. Revise, redraft, take on board what others have to tell you. Accept that most of what you write will have to be junked. Be prepared to work hard and even then, you’ll probably find yourself falling hopelessly short of what you hoped to achieve. And all of that comes before trying to find a publisher for your work… Yes, that’s right! The secret is… there is no secret! 

© PSR 2013


4 Responses to “Create a canon to rival Dostoevsky’s in just six months – here’s how…”

  1. Mari Biella July 29, 2013 at 7:33 am #

    Very true, Paul. I’m sometimes astounded by the number of people who seem to think that things of great merit, literary or otherwise, can be achieved with little or no actual effort. I once knew an otherwise charming gentleman who told me that he was writing a sweeping multi-generational family saga set in the Welsh Marches that would, he believed, not only wow the critics but become an instant worldwide bestseller. This, despite the fact that he’d never written anything more challenging than a shopping list before, and that his usual reading material consisted of tabloid newspapers and TV listing magazines. My suggestion that he spend at least a year reading, followed by at least another year practising writing, before he typed out a word of this novel was met with hostility.

    The truth, of course, is that one has to work damn hard to write anything of any merit. Your last paragraph is about as good a piece of advice as I’ve ever heard – and free, unlike most self-help books!

  2. Paul Sutton Reeves July 29, 2013 at 9:18 am #

    Hi Mari and thanks for your comments.

    It’s just another wearying aspect of the great dumbing down, I suppose. I’m not even going to get started on the writers who are held up as models whom the instant writer should emulate. This is where writing is headed. The boil-in-the-bag book, the Pot Novel, open the sachet to add flavour… Dispense with the need to read challenging writers. Just copy this author of kids’ books for grown-ups instead. Preparation only takes a moment – no writing skills required!

    The claim that something of worth can be created with effortless ease is annoying to you and me and others like us, Mari, because we do put those endless hours into our writing. But there are plenty of people out there in Internetland who are willing to scratch each other’s backs and proclaim their latest thirty-day masterpieces as works of genius. Sometimes I feel that those of us who care about books are like the itinerants in ‘Fahrenheit 451’, exiled to the margins, trying to keep alive the memory of what a novel might be. Or perhaps that’s melodramatic!

  3. Tammy Salyer August 21, 2013 at 1:21 am #

    Great post, Paul! It actually gets to the core of something else, too. We who write don’t do it for the sake of being highly efficient word-generating machines; we write for the joy of writing, the discovery of ideas, and the unlimited exploration those words give us. It’s an adventure. And any adventure that comes with a 30-days-or-less deadline is a good way to take the fun out it.

  4. Paul Sutton Reeves August 21, 2013 at 8:08 am #

    Hi Tammy! Welcome to my blog and thanks for your comments.

    I think you’re absolutely right. If writing is something to be got out of the way as swiftly as possible then why write in the first place? I can only imagine it’s about wanting the status of ‘writer’ without having to make the effort. And if churning out words becomes one’s goal, I suspect it might just communicate itself to the reader.

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