Writing the Next Great American Novel

Happy writers are all alike.  Every unhappy writer is unhappy is his own way.1

paraphrased from Anna Karenina


Actually, that’s not true.  Unhappy writers are all alike as well.  Like me, they stare at a blank page and wait for inspiration.  I decided the other day that writing the next great American novel can’t be THAT hard.  What do these guys do but find a plot, put a bunch of words together and, Voilà!, in roles the reviews and the acclaim, not to mention the road tour, the book signings, the money and of course the novel-loving groupies.

On Monday morning, having decided to write the next great American novel, I wake up, eat breakfast, prepare for a great start and now stare and stare and expect that somewhere on the blank page is that magical smudge that will grow and grow and turn into page after page of magnificent verse.

1 pm:     I found the smudge on the page but it refuses to grow.  It’s probably shy or a slow grower or a late bloomer.  It just needs a little time.

3 pm:     No change.  I think that I will retrieve the mail and get a snack.

5 pm:     Still no change.  Man, that smudge is not cooperating one bit.  I think that my sock drawer needs rearranging.

7 pm:     You guessed it.  A glass or two of wine while I’m waiting would be helpful.

9 pm:     This smudge is starting to irritate me.  I need another glass of wine.

11 pm:  C’mon smudge!  I’m not looking for the next War and Peace, just your basic inspiring novel.  Time to break out another bottle of wine.

1 am:     Wass th’ matta, smudgy?  Gimme break.  I jus’ wan’ ta zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. . .

Okay, so maybe the next great American novel was biting off more than I could chew.  How about the next great American screenplay?  After all, how hard can THAT be?  You slap together a background to set the tone, assemble a few notable characters, give them some dialogue and Voilà!, your off to the producer and then opening night and the road tour, the signings, the money  and of course, the screenwriter-loving  groupies.

On Tuesday morning, I wake up (slowly), take an aspirin, eat breakfast and prepare myself for the next great American screenplay.  Now let me see, a choice backdrop.  Of course, a castle in Victorian England, where all great screenplays begin.  A few choice characters – Heathcliffe and Violet.  I’m rolling now.  Add the dialogue and I’m there.  I knew it was easy.

1 pm:  A scene in a Victorian castle drawing-room.  Violet enters the room where she finds Heathcliffe busily at work at his writing desk.

Heathcliffe:  “Damn, these accursed bills!”

Violet:  “Why, Heathcliffe, whatever is the matter?”

Heathcliffe:  “Can’t you see that I am busy, Violet?”

Violet:  “O, Heathcliffe, why do always act so severe with me?”

[Aside to myself.  Does anybody talk like this nowadays?  Did anybody talk like this in Victorian England?  I need to rethink this.]

3 pm:   Revised Heathcliffe, Violet dialogue.  Yech, this revised dialogue stinks.  Maybe a walk around the block would help.

5 pm:  Newly revised dialogue.  No, this isn’t it.  Underwear drawer needs rearranging.

7 pm:  New, newly revised dialogue.  No better than before.  Relax and have a drink of wine.

9 pm:  Still no improvement.  I need another glass of wine.

11 pm:  I should be done with Act 1 by now.  Damn, where’s that wine bottle?

3 am:  Sla, bluk …? Huh? Where am I?

Alright, so maybe screenplays are just as hard as novels.  Perhaps I should ratchet back a notch before attacking novels and screenplays.  Hmm…  I know, the next great American cartoon.  How hard can THAT be?

1 pm:


  3 pm:


5 pm:


15 thoughts on “Writing the Next Great American Novel

  1. I know what you’re doing wrong: you are resorting to plain wine, when everyone KNOWS that champagne is the only reliable muse. It got me through the writing of my two novels. Which aren’t exactly flying up the bestseller lists. Hmm, may be time to rethink my muse …

  2. Well, I’ve tried writing novels and drawing cartoons, but no groupies so far. I must be doing the “great American” part wrong. But my spammers tell me that there are “blogger lovers” and I’m pretty sure that’s just another way to say “groupies”, so maybe there’s still hope for both of us.

  3. Substitute ‘definitive English novel’ for ‘great American novel’ and you have encapsulated my life in this post. Tough being a writer, ain’t it?

    (I am allowed to say ‘encapsulated’, aren’t I? It isn’t just for Victorian castle thingys?)

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