In my last Post I lightly addressed a number of reasons why people want to write a novel. Since then, I’ve realized that all I clearly did was dance around the issue. Unwittingly, my own example of why I wrote God and Girl, revealed the hardcore truth, but I failed to articulate it in its broader application. I’ll try to do that here.
Earlier today I reread a wonderful article titled, “The Why is Most Important,” by author and book coach Jennie Nash. She deftly captures, in two words, what I was attempting to say in my God and Girl example: ambition and rage.
Ambition, as you know, is desire and drive. You likely are an ambitious person. You can look back over your life—no matter how long or short—and find evidence that you have set and achieved many goals. With each one, you had a desire to do something, along with the vibrant drive to get it done. We could both list many examples, some likely would be the same. For me, at age 39, I wanted to go to law school. I did and it took tremendous effort but somehow I worked my rear off, stuck with it, and graduated in the top 10% of my class. This example represents universal principles. You can apply them to most anything, including medical school, starting a business, building a house (or home; two very different things), or possibly, finding the perfect mate.
No doubt, ambition is a necessary component of your decision to write a novel. I can assure you, it’s not going to be easy. You are going to invest a tremendous amount of time and effort, so you must have the desire and drive, or you’ll likely quit after a few days of solitude (let me assure you, ‘the muse’ is mostly a myth). But, and this is where the rubber meets the road, ambition alone, although necessary, isn’t enough.
In a sense, ambition deals with the external (it likely includes the desire to make a name for yourself). But the most important ‘why’ is to look deep inside and find the internal reason you want to write a book. This is where you will find the rage. More specifically, your rage provides the perfect reason to write a novel. Let’s see why by starting with the definition of rage in its use as a noun.
It is a “feeling of intense anger,” illustrated by “hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.” It’s also defined as “something that is desired intensely.” Wow, wait, there’s that word again. Desire. The dictionary offers this example: “his rage for fame destroyed him.” Or, said another way, “his desire for fame destroyed him.”
“Why am I compelled to write? . . . Because the world I create in the writing compensates for what the real world does not give me. By writing I put order in the world, give it a handle so I can grasp it. I write because life does not appease my appetites and anger . . . To become more intimate with myself and you. To discover myself, to preserve myself, to make myself, to achieve self-autonomy. To dispel the myths that I am a mad prophet or a poor suffering soul. To convince myself that I am worthy and that what I have to say is not a pile of shit . . . Finally I write because I’m scared of writing, but I’m more scared of not writing.” Gloria E. Anzaldua
In the context of, “Why should I write a novel?”, I encourage you to ask yourself another question: “what am I angry about?” Or, similarly, “what is the one thing that makes me the most angry?” Substitute passion if you like (something that is desired intensely). Whichever word you choose, your answer likely involves pain, both past, present, and ongoing, along with the desire to strike back, to get even with someone or something.
I’ll close with an example that comes to mind. Let’s say that several years ago you and your best friend started a business. For a while, things went great and future prospects were bright. In fact, the business did phenomenally well. At some point your partner/friend asked if he could buy you out. His offer was more money than you ever hoped to make. So, you accepted and the deal was closed.
A few months later, you learned your partner/friend stabbed you in the back. Unbeknown to you, there was a deal to be made with an international company that, if you’d been an owner, would have netted you a billion dollars. Instead, the partner (no longer your friend) wound up thousands of times richer than you, all because he desired money more than his friendship and duties to you. In essence, you got snookered. And, the years have ticked on by while the old partner’s net worth and community respect blasted skyward, while you have squandered away what now appears to have been a mere pittance of what you should have been paid.
Over these same years your anger has intensified but now, for many reasons, you have no legal recourse, and you don’t want to spend the rest of your life in an 8 foot by 8 foot jail cell. So, murder is out of the question. Or, is it?
“Oh,” some might say, “the balm of Gilead.” That’s the soothing physical and spiritual ointment your novel can provide. Yes, it’s fiction (the names are changed to protect the ‘innocent’), but yet, it’s true, or can be for you. This is why you should write a novel.
Find what makes you angry, and, along with ambition, you’ll find the powerful forces that will propel you to the finish line.
Get the ‘why’ right first. Then, you can eagerly pursue the ‘how.’
“When I sit down to write a book, I do not say to myself, ‘I am going to produce a work of art.’ I write it because there is some lie that I want to expose, some fact to which I want to draw attention, and my initial concern is to get a hearing.”George Orwell
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