Can Anyone Be a Novelist?

writing, novelist, imaginationWith 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?

12 thoughts on “Can Anyone Be a Novelist?”

  1. Have to say, I totally agree with you… Not everybody CAN be a novelist. Don’t think everybody can be a successful writer, period. It isn’t just a question of being able to string words together with accurate spelling and punctuation – there’s an indefinable ‘something’ else required that makes those words either sing on the page and want you to read more. Or quickly turn away from it and find something more interesting.

    And the reason why I’m qualified to know this, is that I’m a Creative Writing tutor. So I get to see a fair cross-section of new writers. Some may need to sharpen up their technique – but from the first day, there are those with the X factor. And those without it… who will NEVER have it, no matter how polished are accomplished their writing becomes.

  2. Like Nicholas Sparks said. “Anyone can write, but not everyone can write well.”

    That is what separates those who rise like cream to the top

    Now having said that I do believe that there is in among the creativity a formula. In fact I think there is a formula for nearly everything in life, some are just harder to discover than others.

    The challenge is if you learn the formula, can you then take it beyond that and add creativity to make it appear as though you are natural at crafting stories.

    With the surge in people selfpublishing it has its pros and cons

    More people with twitter accounts calling themselves authors.

    While it has impressed me in the past, now reading their work is the only way to determine if they can write well vs dribble.

    Now again that will subjective as if you look at ANY amazon book online by even best sellers. There will always be 50% who like and 50% who didn’t

    As we all are heading into the experience of reading or watching a movie with different values and if they don’t match our values ( i.e someone might read wanting literacy geniuses, excellent grammar etc etc another might not give a rats bottom about that and they simply just want to be held on the edge of their seat and couldn’t care less about the grammar police )

    Ultimately I think either way a person will be seen as a Good novelist by some and a crap one by others.

    So what matters?

    What matters is what is important to you, the author/writer

    As long as you are creating what you want to create then you are going to achieve what you want to achieve.

    Now having said that, if someone is going to do anything, try to do it well.

    Read books, watch movies, slowly you will see the formulas emerging. ( quite frankly there is little on this green plant that is original, most is a knock off or twist on a universal idea, watch enough movies, read enough books and anyone can see that. Even though the diehards will stake their claim that its original )

    Now having said that… originality is not making vampires SPARKLE that is not originality that is just plain dumb. How that series of books ever got picked up is beyond me, its total dribble. I made it through half of the book and then felt like vomiting and refused to read the rest.

    A lot about novel writing can be learned from movies. Movies have a limited amount of time to convey the story and keep people attentive.

    Novel writers can get so lost in their need to be creative that they yack on for hours about total dribble and forget that someone is actually going to have to read it.

  3. I agree. I’ve been writing for twenty years and no success as far as print publishing is concerned. I’ve self published with little success, but I enjoy writing as it is the only time I’m totally engrossed in something to the point of forgetting everything else. I’m not sure if I’m a novelist or not after all these years. I’ve come close to being published, interest from agents and publishers, but to no avail in the end; I’ve had good feedback from professionals then, but none of it makes me a novelist. I am though an enthusiastic & prolific reader and someone compelled to write stories for the sheer escapism and sense of achievement it gives me.

  4. I enjoyed your Blog and while I agree with most of your comments, I wonder if you might be short-changing yourself? You definitely have the gift of language and maybe just a gentle nudge or genre change in the right direction might make novel four become ‘the one’ . . .

  5. You know the feeling. I wrote four long paragraphs of brilliance in reply to your post. I clicked the wrong ‘x’ on the IE tab and destroyed everything.

    Basically, I agree. I’m not going to set this up again, but I’ve agonized over trying self-pubbing, Indie, and traditional.

    I’ve read good and bad about all three ways. What I fear about the self-pubbed world is all the vainity press stuff and the white noise.

    I’ve pretty much decided to try and write the best book I can and then worry about it.

    I agree a story teller is born. I think I am one. Who knows how good.

    I enjoyed your post. I followed you back on twitter and look forward to reading other entries, but since I’m about to go on a writing binge, I can’t haunt these pages very much.

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