So you can read my books

Sunday, October 5, 2014


Ghost of Mark Twain here:

I was reading this here Enter Net you folks can't seem to tear yourselves away from.


"How to Pre-Plot and Write a Novel in a Month!"

"Just $89.99!!"

I quick deleted that snake-oil item from Roland's electronic mail a'fore Hemingway saw it and had a stroke.

You ever see a ghost have a stroke?  Ain't a pretty sight.


You want the mechanic who last worked on the elevator you're riding to have done his work FAST?

You want the surgeon taking out your tonsils to tear it out FAST?

You want the pilot a'going through his checklist before take-off to do it FAST?

You think Elizabeth Stout slapped together the first draft to OLIVE KITTERIDGE FAST?

(By the way, could you tell me why in tarnation does every author think that to be literary they have to depress the bejeezus out of us?

I mean, I read old OLIVE and then THE BURGESS BOYS and come near to slashing my wrists!

Then, I remembered I was a ghost.

If I want to be depressed, I just think on my life ... or visit Roland.)

Where was I?  Oh, yes ...

It's about to be November and the rush of author-lemmings is squirming in anticipation of vomiting a torrent of words for a month-long frenzy.

Folks, do not fool yourselves that slapping together a first draft in a month will give you something to whip into shape later.

Why do you think that ...

 shudder at the thought of tasting their food ... their taco meat looks like my old body has already gotten done with it! ...

TACO BELL tears down the whole building instead of re-modeling? 

If the foundation and structure is bad, you're better off starting from scratch!


A good book is not made up of what is in it, but what is left out.

You craft right as you write (take that Dr. Seuss) and you will have a solid footing for the pages that follow.

It's only an illusion that racing through your first draft is needed 'cause you need to know the ending before you start a second draft.

You need to know the last scene before you start writing the first

Think on it:

If you don't know where you're heading, you'll write yourself and your readers into circles.

If you folks are in the dark about the destination you're writing towards, 

how will you ever know that you got there?

That old grouch Hemingway asked me to say that if you need this NaNo month to give you a kick in the pants to stay the course ...

those pants don't belong to a writer ... just a dreamer.

Now, I see those faces out there.  I'm a ghost you know.

Don't blame me ... old Hemingway is sometimes rougher on folks than corncob toilet paper.

But he has a point:  

a writer burns to write and feels restless and ill at ease unless he or she is writing. 

To get the right word in the right place is a rare achievement.

To condense the diffused light of a page of thought into the luminous flash of a single sentence, is worthy to rank as a prize composition just by itself.

Anybody can have ideas ...

the difficulty is to express them without squandering a ream of paper on an idea that ought to be reduced to one glittering paragraph.

You can't slap together poetry, don't you know?  

And that is what good novels are: poetry in prose as old Hemingway would tell you.

Now, Anton wants me ... Anton who you say?  

Why Chekhov of course.  No, not the one from Star Trek, Victor!

Anyway, Anton wants me to tell you:

"Do not tell the reader the moon is shining ... show her the glint of light on broken glass in the night."

Some of you are puzzled as to why am I so incensed at you pilgrims rushing your words.

There is a danger to more than your artistry.  It is your well-being at risk.

If you can't write well, you will not be able to think well.  And if you can't think well, pilgrims, others will manage to do your thinking for you!

By the way, do not copy my sin of exclamation points:

Never use them.  It is like laughing at your own jokes! (I just had to end the sentence that way)

Where was I? 

Oh, yes, writing and thinking.  

Writing is just thinking through your fingers.  

And if your writing is slipshod and jumbled, your thinking will be, too.

And we have enough of that in Washington, D.C.

I know you folks want to socialize and be NaNoNanettes

But Remember:

Writing is a lonely job.

Even if a writer socializes regularly, when he gets down to the real business of his life,

it is he and his typewriter or keyboard. No one else is or can be involved in the matter.

It is the writing that teaches you.

FAST does not engender good ideas.  And good ideas are what make up good books.  Good ideas are shy critters. 


The first step in making rabbit stew is catching the rabbit.

You have to hunt them like an Injun with time and patience and cunning.

Enough preaching.  I want to encourage not discourage.

Last thing to Remember:

You must keep sending your work out.  You must never let a manuscript do nothing but eat its heart out in a drawer.

You send that work out again and again, while you’re working on another one.

If you have talent, you will receive some measure of success – but only if you persist. 

I lied earlier -- What did you expect from a ghost, consistency?

Now here is my very last Remember:

There are no reliable words.

Whoever writes is involved in a struggle that never lets up even for a sentence.

He is struggling against vagueness,

against obscurity,

against the lure of the decorative adjective,

 and, above all,

against the worn-out phrases and dead metaphors with which most hastily crafted books are cluttered up.


  1. NANO has never appealed to me, I'm with Mark and Hemingway on this one. I would like to know the demographics of participants and the target market and genres most represented.

    Perhaps there is a pattern.

  2. D.G.:
    I am with you and them as well. I think those who look upon writing as a hobby or lark do NaNo. Those who look upon writing as a craft or occupation treat it with respect.

    I think you might be right in the pattern between ages, genres, and target market.

  3. Having just finished it, I know one thing for sure: Middlemarch was not written in a month. I almost put one of these !!! at the end of that sentence.

    Anyhow, Mr. Twain, I love that word you use so often: Tarnation!

  4. Inger:
    Such fun photos of Samson and Faith on your blog today. :-)

    The ghost of Mark Twain sends a wink your way!

    His, Hemingway's, and my view of NaNoWriMo is decidedly unpopular judging from my email! (See I used Mark's hated ! myself).

    But as you found with MIDDLEMARCH, quality takes time and planning.

    And we are a microwave culture these days, right? :-)

  5. I've done it twice. Some of us just need that push to get it done because we're lazy. (Of course, I plot and plan my manuscripts to death before I do it.)

  6. Alex:
    A crutch is good while it is needed, but it is not the normal way to walk!

    Continuing with a crutch after you have your legs under you will only weaken your legs -- same with NaNo. Doing it regularly will weaken your writing "legs" and reinforce faulty writing habits. Old English teacher, here. :-)