It’s a good thing I didn’t decide to become a novelist until I was in my late fifties. My ego couldn’t have taken it.
Of course, I don’t think I could have become one much sooner anyhow. Although I’d always wanted to write a novel—who hasn’t?—I’d never had the time and I’d never come up with a novel-worthy idea.
So much of what I put into my novels has resulted from whatever wisdom—well, whatever experience, anyhow—I’ve gained over the years.
The advice to write what you know about isn’t always valid, but it has been for me. As a Christian, a Preacher’s Kid, a happily married man (following an unhappy marriage), an amateur musician and song writer, and an all-around nice guy—all of those things have enabled me to write the books I write.
And it’s taken many years for those factors to meld into meaningful stories that have me in them, yet aren’t really about me at all. Maybe I’ll explain that someday in another post.
If I’d started writing novels twenty or twenty-five years ago, I would’ve still been so much under the influence of my former favorite author, James Michener, that I couldn’t have made the transition to the contemporary way of writing novels.
That means—among other things—no purple prose (it even sounds nasty, doesn’t it?). No starting with page after page of unnecessary backstory and setting. No writing so beautifully that it distracts the reader. And no compulsion to follow the rules of grammar. Of even the rules of writing, which seem to fluctuate—or at least to vary according to the expert being consulted.
If you recall how I began this post, I have to commend you for your patience. The one thing I haven’t mentioned since the first paragraph is ego.
I spent various parts of my life thinking of myself as a success. And other parts considering myself a failure. Now, in retirement, none of that matters very much.
Yes, I’m quite pleased that my first book, Found in Translation, sold 5,000 copies (the other 5,000 copies were remaindered off) and the second, Lost in Dreams, half that number.
But I could easily look at the hundreds of thousands of books my author friends have sold and feel insignificant. Fortunately, I put my writing in God’s hands, and I count on Him for the results He wants. I’m not sure I could have done that when I was younger.
Right now I’m experiencing what could have been an ego blow—if I’d let it. I’m reviewing the edits to one of my manuscripts made by the professional editor my current publisher has assigned it to. She is GOOD!
But what helps is that I’m open to her suggestions. Instead of feeling that she’s “plucking the pedal off my rose,” to use a quote from poet T. S. Elliott, I recognize that there’s a huge difference between my being a creative novelist and my insisting on having the final word on what will make my book the best it can be.
Out of the dozens of suggestions she’s made, especially regarding what to delete to bring the book down to a reasonable length (from 100,000 words to 80,000 or less), I have only insisted on keeping one very brief section she wanted to delete. But I knew how that section affected the story later, whereas she hadn’t gotten far enough to realize that. She won’t object.
Furthermore, she’s been so good about pointing out various things she REALLY likes. Amazing how far a positive attitude goes, isn’t it?
So her suggestions don’t come across as blows to my ego. I hope she’ll be my editor again in future ventures.
Please leave a comment if something in this post has spoken to you. I’ll be back again on Sunday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, just go to “Follow Blog via Email” at the upper right.
By the way, “On Aging Gracelessly” isn’t my only blog. I use “As I Come Singing”—find it here-to post lyrics of the Christian songs I’ve written over the last fifty years. Free lead sheets (tune, words, and chords) are available for many of them. Check here to see the list.