Writing the Great American Novel – 3 signs that it’s never going to happen.

By CBramkamp Newbie Guide Comments Off on Writing the Great American Novel – 3 signs that it’s never going to happen.

The first novel was written by a woman, The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu, The 1,000 page novel can be found on most Japanese shelves.  And just like all those copies of Ulysses (James Joyce), the novel is never read.   

Despite it’s history, we call it writing the Great American Novel.  Probably because many writer (I’m sure, not you)   begin their book ideas with the awards ceremony and work backwards.  Once the acceptance speech is for your Pulitzer is polished to perfection, you’ll be ready to write that famous,  lauded,  fabulous NYT Best Selling (more on what that looks like here . . ) Novel.

Yet  for months all you have is a blank page.  You’re even stuck on the acceptance speech.

What happened?

  • Too much time.
  • Too little time.
  • Expectations far too high.
  • And the core belief that writing should be easy.
  • It’s not.

  Read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut. –   Stephen King

Despite what you read coming across your email – writing a novel in a weekend is not a realistic goal.

Writing a novel in a month  (National Novel Writing Month – NaNoWriMo) is possible, the end product just won’t be very good.

Writing a novel in a few months is possible, but it will not be the Great American Novel, it will be a perfectly adequate genre novel.

Writing a novel in a year is more realistic.  Spending more time than a year is a luxury, one that many of those prize winning novelist take.

Ahh, but that’s too long!   I’m just going to write up my life story and publish it next month.

You go – that sounds like a fine idea.  And you’d be a writer certainly.

You do realize no one will read it?

Okay, how to tell if you are serious about writing a novel or if you are just screwing around so finishing a novel is about as realistic as dating Cameron Diaz or winning in the best actor category even though you’ve never tried out for the school play.

Are You Serious or Not?

You talk about writing your novel all the time – all your friends know the plot, your hairdresser weighs in on the characters, everyone knows the hero is you –   with more muscles and longer hair.  It will be a great video game.

You will never get any of it on paper.  Or have you already noticed that discrepancy?

The more you discuss your story, book or novel, the less energy you will leave to write it.  Real writers do not discuss their work much.  We come up with a good 30 second elevator speech – I’m working on the third book in my series Future Girls, it’s about time travel.  And we move on to the dip and chips in the living room.  We don’t really WANT to discuss our book with you, we want to keep it in our heads until it can be dumped into the computer program.

That’s what real writers do.

You are waiting for inspiration.

You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club. – Jack London

The muse works on a schedule.  She’s busy, she needs to know where and when to show up.  If you have been working under the erroneous belief that you will write when you are inspired, you will never write.  Because you will never be inspired. Waiting for inspiration is the best way to avoid writing known to man.

If you want to be a real writer, you will find ten to twenty minutes in your day to show up.  You don’t have to much in the first few weeks.  Just show up, open the computer or notebook.  Stare at it.  Write something down.  Your name, your dog’s name.  Why you want to write.  Why you suddenly hate writing.


This does three things.

  1. It makes you a writer, a real writer, because damn it, you’re writing.
  2. After 21 days or about a month of showing up at the same time every day to write, you will actually move from writing gibberish (of which I am a fan) and start creating something that will surprise and delight you because
  3. The Muse can find you.  She will visit during that time, she will help.  You have a plan, you have her, after a year, you’ll have enough words  to edit, refine and make into a real book.

You don’t really want to, you know,  actually write. 

True story, a client wanted to phone it in.  She wanted to tell me everything she wanted to write and then I would write it for her.

Some writers dictate and then transcribe

Some use Dragon and talk the work directly into the computer.

Many famous “authors” employe ghost writers and do indeed get a book published, with their name across the cover and haven’t really written a word.

That is creating a product – we’ll discuss that later.

That is also employing, for very low wages, a ghost writer which is the equivalent of being a seamstress in the 19th century working for 50 cents a day in a building where all the exits are locked.  If you cannot write your own book, then don’t pretend to be an author. Make a video,  give interviews, look pretty.  Leave the books to real authors.

But if you do want to write, to create a world with words, stay with us.  We can help.

Catharine Bramkamp is the author of Future Girls and Future Gold
as well as the upcoming Don’t Write Like We Talk – what we’ve learned after three years interviewing authors, agents and publishers.

Newbie Writers Podcast

For more information, Your Book Starts Here

  • Share:
Visit Us On TwitterVisit Us On FacebookVisit Us On Google PlusVisit Us On YoutubeCheck Our Feed