With a record number of new books being self-published by a burgeoning number of new authors some have come to the conclusion that most anyone can become a novelist. Is this true? Here’s what I think.
Let me preface this with the statement that I have no scientific studies nor have I interviewed a million authors and publishing officials, this is largely my own opinion. But that opinion is based on a half-century’s experience as an avid reader and a somewhat shorter time as a student of publishing.
I will also admit that anyone who can type can string together enough words to fill enough pages to call their story a book. And with the advent of self-publishing, this word stringer can publish their book and claim to be a published author. If this book is fiction, they may claim the title of novelist. But then, I could record myself banging on a collection of wooden blocks and call myself a musician. Whether or not I actually deserve the title would depend on whether or not I can find a following of people who agree with me.
Being capable of writing a novel that is actually worth reading requires two distinct types of talent. One is the ability to use written language to communicate effectively. For a novelist this will include the ability to describe settings and characters, convey emotions as well as manage the technical aspects of grammar and sentence structure. These can be learned. Anyone with enough resolve can take classes and become proficient at these skills. The other talent is imagination. To create good novels an author must be able to come up with new stories, settings, characters so the reader will be drawn in and held captive, not feel as though they’re reading a re-hash of some other story they’ve read. This cannot be learned: creativity is inborn.
I feel qualified to speak on this because I am among the sub-set of humanity whose genome is missing that one little bit that provides flights of fancy, imagination and creativity. I have done quite well for myself in the world of non-fiction: instructive writing, technical writing, historical accounts, biographies, memoir accounts of past experiences; I can inform and entertain with facts. I have sold a few fictional short stories to magazines, but without exception these have come from what I call Inspired Writing, thus I cannot lay claim to their origination.
I have in fact written three novels – long ago – and I spent a couple of years querying agents and publishing houses: all to no avail. While no one came right out and called me a no-talent hack, commentary did indicate that my story was not as unique or fresh as they’d like. Looking back on them now, I can see that I cobbled together elements of several other books or movies that had enthralled me to form my own story, but apparently I did not do a very good job of making them my own. More recently, samples of my fiction laid upon the alter of public review have brought out my lack of ability in character development.
I have read a great many books that left me marveling at the author’s imagination and the wonderful new vista’s they opened up to me. I admire this skill tremendously, but I do not share it.
In most any aspect of my life I have excelled at being able to take the visions of others and make them real. Even in our furniture business Marie was the designer, the artist, I provided the skills needed to make the sketches into beautiful, sturdy, physical objects. I am a craftsman. This is no small talent, and I’m grateful for it, but it will not allow me to build new worlds or find new, exciting situations into which to place interesting people.
I expect that there are others like me. At least, I hope there are others like me! Folks who are so left-brained that vibrant creativity escapes us. Based on this I assert that no; not everyone can be a novelist. At least, not a good one. What do you think?