Wonder if You Have What it Takes to be a Novelist

Most of us think, writing a novel, that’s got to be hard work! Just look at the size of those things. Sure, I can write; I enjoy writing; I’ve written a ton of documentation for this or that; I’ve got down rhetoric, but a novel? I’ve read enough of them.

I know what they’re about, that is, that they’re stories, and, yes, I’ve got a few stories of my own, but writing a novel? What does it take, I mean, what are the difficulties? Where do you start? What do you need?

To begin with, if you don’t feel the need to write, if there isn’t something in yourself that isn’t propelling you, that isn’t urging you to write a novel, then don’t.

All good art proceeds from a deep need in the artist to express something just as deep, something that is full of feeling, yet undisclosed (that’s what writing the novel will do, disclose feeling), something that is full of the world, full of its images, and full of the time, of its concerns and tensions, full of the moment in which you live.

If there isn’t something inside you that doesn’t cry out, “Express me!”, then don’t write a novel. Writing a novel begins with the artistic urge, an urge that isn’t for fame, or wealth – if you can get it – but for a resolution of a conflict between human desire and a world empty of what is desired, opposed to it, perhaps giving rise to the desire by its own character, by its essence of change. If you don’t have a need to create something of beauty in the world, something that overcomes its madness and inanity, don’t write a novel. Get a job.

Having the artistic urge isn’t enough. Like every art, the novel requires a mastery of its technology. Words, sentences, paragraphs, chapters, all arranged and ordered by, yes, the principles of style, but also by the feelings you have for the subject you wish to express.

You’ll want to look into the rhetoric of fiction, the elements of the novelist’s medium, viewpoint, plot, character, and the means by which a novelist creates meaning for those who will read.

You’ll want to have a sense of beauty, and of the sublime, but you’ll also need to know something about man, about his mind, his body, his soul, for the novel is about man in relation to himself, to others, to the cosmos, to God.

A good novelist is not only a thinker, a philosopher, but also a feeler; not only a psychologist, but also a sociologist, an anthropologist; not only a natural scientist, but also, in some manner, a theologian; and yet the novelist is not any of these except as their revelations have conditioned the recognizable reality to which all good novels point. If you will write a novel, as well as being a writer, be a seer too.

Writing a novel that will be a work of art starts with you being an artist. Now you may begin.