So you can read my books

Thursday, November 1, 2012


{"As a writer, you should not judge, you should understand.
- Ernest Hemingway.}

Roland and I were at his table at Meilori's

and he sighed that for the month of November few would visit his computer journal.

I groaned, "Not that

NaNo or NoMo or NoNoNanettes

or whatever your friends call it."

I told him that it was the Litmus Test to determine the Dreamers from the Determined.

Gentle people, writing is not a group hug affair. It is lonely, hard, and demands discipline.

You build a hovel when you just slap boards together as fast and as many as possible.

Same for a novel. You take 25 words, distilling them into 15 or 10. You agonize over 400 true words a day not 5,000.

Raymond Carver had it right when he said good writing demands brevity and intensity. Those elements are distilled not vomited.

Be NoNoNanettes if you choose. But if your goal is to be a good writer, you must eskew the month long frenzy of throwing words together to get a semblance of a novel.

You wail it is popular. Are you a lemming? You pout that it is only a month. A month where you will be teaching yourself destructive writing habits.

A writer will have to sacrifice much to craft (notice my word) a novel. Let your sacrifices be for a novel that will take the reader's breath away.

Children, if you choose to write, write well. And how do you do that you pout. Here are the secrets:


Secret #1 :
There aren't any secrets.

Secret #2 :
There is only one secret :

The only secret to good writing is that it is poetry written into prose, and it is the hardest of all things to do.

But I will try to see if I can't share a bit of what I've learned. We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.

And if you are reading this at night, it will mean something different than if you are reading this in the day. I know the night is not the same as the day:

that all things are different, that the things of the night cannot be explained in the day,

because they do not then exist, and the night can be a dreadful time for lonely people once their loneliness has started.

There are no secrets to good writing. But there is a compass :

No sentimentality allowed.

There is no sentimentality in prose that touches the heart.

Sounds like nonsense. It isn't.

Sentimentality, sympathy, and empathy are turned inwards, not restrained, but vibrant below and beyond the level of fact and fable.

If you would touch your reader, find what gave you a similar emotion :

what the action was that gave you the excitement. Then write it down making it clear so the reader will see it too and have the same feeling as you had.

No secrets. No sentimentality. Yet, there are rules:

Rule #1
Writing is re-writing.

The first draft of anything is shit. Get the draft done, then sculpt away anything that is excess.

Rule #2
In fiction as in life: you can't go back.

The reason most sequels, films or books, fail is that the author tries to unscramble the egg. The hero has changed, has learned, has become something other.

Rule #3

Good books belong to the reader.

The reader will identify with your protagonist if you've been honest.

The tale then belongs to him : the good and the bad, the ecstasy and the remorse and the sorrow. He will have felt the air on his cheek, smelled the bread baking on the breeze, and how the weather was.

He will feel that it has happened to him.

Rule #4
Talent is not enough.

It doesn't matter if you have the talent of Kipling. You must also have the discipline of Flaubert if you would become a good writer. Dreamers dream pipe dreams. Writers write. Writers grow in their craft.

Rule #5
Know everything.

No bullshit. And if you would be a writer, you must develop a foolproof shit detector.

A good writer must know everything. Naturally, he will not. That is why you must read.

Mr. King was right when he said that if you do not have time to read, you have no business being a writer.

Read fiction. Read non-fiction. Read psychology texts. Read biographies, autobiographies. Become a student of life.

Good writing is true writing.

If a man is making up a story, it will be true in proportion to the amount of knowledge he has about life and how conscientious he is :

so that when he makes something up, it is as it would truly be.

Sit down and think about what I've written. Look over what you last wrote. Slash and burn what is excess.

Sermon over. Now, sit down and write something ... well.

* {This photo is in the public domain because it was published in the United States between 1923 and 1963 and although there may or may not have been a copyright notice, the copyright was not renewed.}
I like Jesse Cook. Don't cock those eyes at me. An old ghost can like new music. Jesse would have developed a real following in pre-Castro Cuba :


  1. You have such a great blog. Though I am doing Nanowrimo, I have not yet written a word. This is food for thought at just the right time. Okay, off to murder Hemingway now...

  2. Thanks, Shell Flower:
    Hemingway forgives you. Even as a ghost he is a push over for the ladies. And being wanted for murdering the ghost of Hemingway is what my GHOST OF A CHANCE is all about!

  3. Write something well, best advice ever. Though I am doing NaNo, I will not rush myself, only use it to motivate me. I don't care if I get 50,000 words, I just want to fill up a bit of white space and soak up the excitement.

  4. Good tips, Roland. I agree with Hemingway, as usual.

    I'm not doing NANO, but I'll wish those writers luck who do enjoy it. I am using the month for writing a portion of a new novel draft.

  5. Dear Roland,
    I'm doing Nano, or at least I am giving it a try. You have a lot of good thoughts about writing. I definitely agree with you and King that to be a writer you also need to read a lot. As an example, I've just discovered that I will need a lot more facts about the area where my novel is set to make it a believeable story. So I'll need to read a lot of non-fiction books to create my ficttional world.
    Best of luck with your November-writing!

  6. Heather:
    I wish you good journey with NaNo. The need to tell a tale urges us all on.

    The ghost of Hemingway said, "Smart lady to agree with me." He's that kind of fellow! :-) I wish you luck with your draft. I hope to complete the final edits on THREE SPIRIT KNIGHT during November.

    Hello, Anna:
    Read autobiographies of people from the area and time you wish to write. You will soak up details and items of everyday life you might miss otherwise. Great fun with your writing, Roland

  7. You'll be happy to know I am not doing Nano this year. Editing instead.
    I have produced two manuscripts in this fashion, one which became my second book. I plan ahead, sometimes for months, and my pace of 350 words per hour gives me time to ponder.
    For me, it is the kick in the butt and the challenge. I'd write one book every ten years if not properly motivated.

  8. Hi Roland - you certainly remind us what good writing is about and how it evolves .. there's too much dash so often ...

    Cheers Hilary