57th Trial: It is one thing to finish a novel, and then to start at page one again in an attempt to edit it. I have been reading E.M. Forester and his severe criticism has placed new eyes into my head, which has been a trial in itself. A first draft is as rough as sandpaper, and the same is true for mine. There are times when there is no smoothness between dialogue, description, and characters, and then there are rays of light that bring hope.
Weekly Hours Spent Writing or in the Pursuit of Plot: 14 hr/wk: thank you quarantine!
Weekly Choice of Tea: Vanilla Bean Tea
Biggest Success: I have completed the first draft of my novel!!! It is done, and yet I am so far from the end. I am told this is the first step, and quite the accomplishment. However I look at it like I do a pile of bricks on a cement slab: I have the foundation and the materials to build a house, but I still need to place each brick individually while making the mortar to give it strength and cohesiveness. It is an exciting time, and I have sent it to several people to help me edit. The process has begun!
I would like to begin this blog with a note on the author E.M. Forester, before I delve into all that I learned from his teachings in “Aspects of the Novel.” Reading from the eyes of a critic has been as enjoyable as it has been despairing. He shone a light onto all writers to reflect their own inabilities; naturally, that is one way of teaching. Personally, what I felt after reading this book was complete reluctance. Looking over the pages of my novel, it seemed as if I have little to actually say, and that I lack a necessary intention in my descriptions. Fear of my potential lack of depth has crept in, thanks to Forester, as well as a fear that I have only accomplished to shy behind the charisma of my characters – that they take the novel to places I could not alone.
But I have begun to read it over, and thankfully made enough edits that it is already sounding better. Yet I cannot say I have not laughed at myself. I have such a love for older literature, and my language can come off so grand and therefore so inappropriate! Some sentences cannot be said without a British accent, or there are interactions that are so prim and proper that they must’ve jumped off of Austen’s page and landed on mine (though without the art). I know I am sounding harsh, but it is only with the accomplishment of the first draft that an editor, even a self-editor, must become cut-throat.
While reading Atwood’s “On Writing” I beamed as a Writer, enjoying the hope and excitement of writing; maybe it was because of her humor. And how every point was drawn in sarcasm or dripped with a type of sticky substance that I couldn’t shake off. But with Forester – with Forester I have grown blue. Oxygen does not circulate in the ice cold reality of true critics. My writing could deem me a great novelist for the sake of novels only, or that it could develop well enough characters with an artist’s stroke, but fail miserably at the overall painting. I had no idea that a writer reverently adored and in the literary canon could be still so debased by a lens held up to their writing. No one worth reading my book will do it without bending forward to see the details that are both distasteful and tasteful, instead of what I hope they do: sit at a distance and bask in the portrait of it like Monet’s exhibit in Musée de l’Orangerie. But then I think of Monet’s exhibit. And while I liked sitting and sensing the space between me and a wall of water lilies, I also did not love it until I saw the layers of paint that differentiated the corner of a lily pad from the draping leaf of a willow tree, both immersed in water neither above or below me.
While this has been a brutal lesson, it has been a good one. I have crossed the finish line only to create another one, and once that one is crossed, I shall have built more frame of confidence.
E.M. Forester: “Aspects of a Novel”
- “…the novel’s success lies in its own sensitiveness, not in the success of its subject-matter.”
- “The final test of a novel will be our affection for it, as is the test of our friends…”
- “The intensely, stiflingly human quality of the novel is not to be avoided; the novel is sogged with humanity…We may hate humanity, but if it exorcised or even purified the novel wilts, little is left but a bunch of words.”
- “The allegiance to time is imperative: no novel could be written without it.” He proceeds to give examples of author’s and ways to work with the wall clock: Emily Bronte hides it, Proust alters its hands, Stein smashes it, and Sterne turns it upside down. Ha!
- Why love is so prominent in novels: 1. “The constant sensitiveness of characters for each other… has no parallel in life, except among those people who have plenty of leisure.” 2. “He can make it a permanency, and his readers easily acquiesce, because one of the illusions attached to love is that it will be permanent.”
- Characters in novels are “real not because they are like ourselves (though they may be like us) but because they are convincing… We get from this a reality of a kind we can never get in daily life. For human intercourse, as soon as we look at it for its own sake and not as a social adjunct, is seen to be haunted by a spectre.”
- “Perfect knowledge is an illusion.”
- On Characters: “…if they are given complete freedom they kick the book to pieces, and if they are kept too sternly in check they revenge themselves by dying, and destroy it by intestinal decay.”
- “A novelist who betrays too much interest in his own method can never be more than interesting.”
- “Characters must not brood too long, they must not waste time running up and down ladders in the own insides, they must contribute, or high interests will be jeopardized.”
- “To pot with the plot! Break it up, boil it down.”
- Melville “has not got that tiresome little receptacle, a conscience, which is often such a nuisance in serious writers and so contracts their effects.”
- “To most readers of fiction the sensation from a pattern is not intense enough to justify the sacrifices that made it, and their verdict is ‘beautifully done, but not worth doing.”