Wednesday, July 16, 2008

On Writing Novels


If anyone reading this is writing a novel, or is thinking of writing one, Zadie Smith has a really wonderful piece in the June issue of The Believer.

Most of the people reading this know that I am at work on a novel and that I am posting a chapter a week online.  Posting a chapter a week has not been at all difficult as I have a considerable backlog.  We'll see towards the end of the summer as the pre-written chapters run out if I will be able to keep up the pace.

One thing I have not decided on, is whether I should go back and quietly edit the chapters I have already posted, or to change my own drafts and leave the published chapters as they are. If anyone is reading this, or if you have any opinions on the matter please let me know.  One of the things I already find sort of interesting is that problems that never occurred to me, now seem glaringly obvious now that five chapters have been posted.

Back to Zadie Smith.  I loved her first novel, White Teeth, and haven't read the next two.  This article (which was originally a lecture given to Columbia Grad students) made me want to hug her.  Lots of it would be useful to playwrights, too.  I almost shouted out loud on the subway when she wrote about scaffolding.  What she means by scaffolding is when you decide each chapter will be based on a book of the old testament or Shakespeare's plays, or it has to be written in six chapters, each one taking place in a different decade.  Essentially constructs that keep us from killing ourselves while writing, and about how maybe, probably, whatever we are working on would probably be better if the scaffolding was removed at some point before turning the book over the the publisher.  She also writes about how the worst person on earth to edit a book is the person who wrote it because they can't even see it at the point they are expected to give it a final edit.  I do have a burning desire to find my own Maxwell Perkins.

I began blogging my novel to give myself a kick in the ass.  So that I had all kinds of deadlines.  But these deadlines are meaningless if no one is reading.  So please read.  And tell me what you think.  But please be kind.


1 comment:

Dave Panchyk said...

Very useful! I think you've given me a good idea of what scaffolding is, and brought an interesting magazine to my attention. Many thanks!