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Vintage WD: Afternoon of a Part-Time Writer

This WD article from 1957 offers a humorous look at what it's like to be a writer with a day job, a family, or other obligations that take time away from writing--something many of us can relate to.

By Brooks Noel

Writer’s Digest June 1957

I write on one end of the kitchen table.

Mostly I write at night and on the weekends. During the day, I work. This keeps the landlord from knocking at the door. The most important thing is to get something written every day.

But it’s not always easy to write every day. Take yesterday for example: I push all the dishes to one end of the table, grab the portable and two pages and 500 words later I’ve gotten a pretty good start on that suspense story I plotted during lunch.

The beautiful secretary is dead, an icepick in her left ear (they want ‘em brutal). I’ve managed to get the hard, lean red-blooded Lieutenant and his partner into the room, the coroner rushing to the scene, the approximate time of death, and the first suspect, who is not the iceman, introduced to the reader. I’ve also hinted at the motive and told the reader twice that it was the left ear. (This is the gimmick that finally traps the killer.) I’m just warming up. I put another sheet in the roller. I typed:

He knelt for a closer look at the wound. Her head was partly turned on the thick woven rug. There was hardly any bleeding. He rose slowly, eyes blazing, his head shaking visibly.

“I’m going to get the dirty rat that did this and when I do, I’m going to empty this…this…this…” He finally drew his black automatic Colt .45 with his initials on the handle that was loaded with six dum-dum shells.

There is a timid knock at the door and I stop reluctantly right there. A very small figure with freckles stands at the door, tears in his eyes, a baseball glove on his left hand. He pounds his right hand into the glove a few times.

“Coach,” he says in a broken voice, “I can’t play in Saturday’s game.”

I’m still in the murder room. “What game? Game? Oh, yes, the game. Why can’t you play, Shorty?”

“I have to visit my Grandmother in California. Isn’t that terrible, Coach. For two weeks, too.” By this time the tears are streaming. I say “I’m sorry, Shorty, but don’t worry, your spot will be open when you return.”

I return to the machine. Then it hits me. Shorty Huitte! No! They can’t do this to me! Shorty is the best eleven-year-old third baseman in the whole Little League. We haven’t a chance now against those Purple Tigers.

This is terrible. Let’s see, I can put Johnson at third, Fats Wallace in Johnson’s place at first, put the center fielder in the hole at short, shift Mike to the catcher’s spot and Speraneo to second. Fine. We’ll beat those screaming Tigers yet. I return to the story. I write:

The coroner enters, his black bag in his right hand.

Right hand! That won’t do. We’ve got to have a right-hander in there pitching. Let’s see now. Bring in Ronnie … Ronnie … what’s his name—the one that’s always picking his nose—put him in the pitching spot and shift the pitcher to second. I go back to the story.

He goes about his grisly job quickly. Lieutenant Anvil and his partner step out in the hall. He gets a receipt for the body. (I don’t know why, they all do, though.) His partner draws, “Who is Aunt Minerva’s heir? The dead girl?”

Anvil slaps him hard. “Another crack like that and I’ll send you to your Grandmother’s in California.”

“Do you think I should have the boy’s play tug of war or should we run three-legged races?” asks my wife.

“What?”

“At the picnic?”

“Picnic?”

“For the Cub Scouts. You promised to think up a game to play at the picnic. Remember?”

“Sure. Sure. I’m working on it.” I type more slowly now, thinking of the picnic, I guess.

“Now you take this floor. Ask all the tenants the usual questions. Meanwhile, I’ll work on Aunt Minerva’s three-legged angle.”

My son enters. “Who’s catching, now?” he asks.

I rack my brain. Aunt Minerva? Lt. Anvil? Finally, I came up “Mike.”

He shakes his head, no.

“Why?”

“His mother don’t want him to catch. She says, Mike is not to get too close to the batters or to run too fast because his nose may bleed.”

I shuffled the line-up again, got a right-hander on the plate, and returned to the story. Daughter, age nine, enters.

“Hey, Dad, Joyce says I’ve got to go back to my onesies and I’ve already finished my twosies.”

“Twosies?”

“Yes, you know, twosies. Hopscotch.”

Hopscotch? Way, way back I remember drawing lines on the sidewalk. I have to go back a long ways for the answer to this one, but eventually I have two girls hopping happily on the sidewalk.

She was stabbed in the right ear by a left-hander who eats salami and pitches for the Darigold Eagles and … now, there’s a team. Wish we had their pitcher … humn ….

“Don’t give me that crap, you old beetle. You know he was alive when you called at eight. Now, it will go a lot easier on you if you tell me who …

Eventually I do get a few hundred words written. The next night I put a few more hundred down on the paper. It all adds up. And that’s what counts.

A writer doesn’t need to lock himself in the attic; puncture the picture tube; give up his golf. If only a page is written each day, even a paragraph, the next day’s page will be easier.

Once I was snowbound in Alaska for three weeks with plenty of paper and a good typewriter. Not even a radio handy. No screaming, wild, Little Leagers. No noisy Cub Scouts with their perpetual questions. Not even a Brownie meeting to attend. Boy what a chance, I thought.

You guessed it. I never wrote a word.

Brooks Noel has been in the Navy for sixteen years. He took some writing courses in Corpus Christi and since then has written 26 crime-fiction stories. “So far I have received ten checks (mostly small) and a dandy little hand printer from WD for a prize in the short short contest,” he says. And he adds, “With the Little League it’s been pretty good. Last year we came in second. This year the boys look even better.”

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Vintage WD: Notes on Fiction Writing

In this 1941 Writer's Digest article, one writer talks about knowing the ins and outs of the genre in which you're writing, and the one thing they all have in common: writing a good story.

By Robert Erisman

Writer’s Digest, April 1941

I am sitting here remembering that I have edited quite a few fiction magazines and that I have published in quite another few and that in and around these labors I have done a great deal of thinking about and wrestling with most every problem of fiction writing and from most every possible angle. I am sitting here with all this boiling inside me and thinking that I should be able to write some kind of an article out of it that might be helpful to other writers.

So I start making notes. I start jotting things down; anything, just as it comes:

Story ideas were never Lyle Gumm’s trouble. Lyle writes detective and mystery yarns under the name Donald Dale. He came up to the office one day to talk about a novelette he was doing for me. He did not look very happy.

“Oh, hell, Bob,” he said, “I’m not having trouble getting started because I can’t get an idea. My trouble is that I have too many ideas. I sit and go mad trying to decide which one to use.”

Lyle was almost too intelligent to be a writer. A writer who has trouble finding a “good idea” for a story is luckier than Lyle’s kind. He will be so happy over his idea when he finally hits on one that he will nurse it, expand it, relax contentedly into the problem of developing it into a sound emotional story.

The day of the trick story idea is taking more than a temporary back seat. It is completely out in the literary field, pretty nearly out in the slicks, halfway out in the pulps, thriving only in the comic magazines. It looks as if the reading public is growing up.

Literary magazines want more significant stories, slicks want stories that tend toward the literary, pulps want stories that tend toward slick, comics are calling in experienced pulp writers so that they can get better stories. The trend is to quality, in the writing; the trend is to character, in the plotting.

Writing a pulp or a slick, it’s best to get a “feel” for a character as your story idea. Thinking up a character that you could really go to bat for, that you could really be thrilled writing about.

One day I was doing some work around the house with hammer and nails and lumber. I’m no powerful, rangy lug, but working with tools and doing a good job with them gave me a feel of power, of easy rangy strength. I thought I’d like to do a story about such a character, I thought I’d like to get the feel into the character that I’d felt working with those tools capably.

An opening paragraph began running through my head. Later I set it down. And before I had that paragraph down a complete logical plot had flowered out of it. The story I wrote from the plot I sold to Liberty.

One night I was sitting in a bus station waiting for my bus. Most of the guys plunked around on the stools at the lunch counter were muscular tough mugs in work clothes. Compared to them I felt like a tall “nice” young man. They shot some touch, suspicious looks at me. I gave ‘em eye for eye for the fun of it.

I thought: This character I feel like, and these tough bus station babies, there’s something interesting in the feel of this clash. Suppose I had just come to this town and my making a go of my business in the town depended on these tough mugs liking me and they didn’t like me because I looked like a lanky sis.

A first paragraph got going: “They didn’t like Henry Palmer down at the bus station so he might just a well have ripped out his chair and taken his. D.D.S. diploma off the wall and packed up his instruments and moved on to the next town, for all the business he was going to get in Dorean.”

And a logical character plot started flowering, and the resultant story finally sold to Argosy.

Every writer ought to work in an editorial office if he possibly can, in whatever menial capacity. It is very, very tonic to a writer’s confidence to see that editors are not gods but simply [people]; that the stories they buy do not have some mysterious magic quality but are simply good jobs of writing and rewriting that ordinary humans produced; that editors actually do get very excited over buying a first story by a new writer; that what one editor thinks is a fine story another might think a piece of junk, and vice versa, so there’s no golden rule on what a good story is.

Taymond Porter, cover-name western pulp writer, took me to lunch one day and he said a lot of things but I remember this: He said he wrote his stories better than they had to be to sell simply for the sake of his writing soul. He said that he could never enjoy writing just for the dough itself.

Eaton Goldthwaite, Short Stories regular, is the lad who lives down the road two miles and beats me at checkers, and he says: I think up an interesting opening situation and the rest of the story takes care of itself.

Duane Decker, who broke into the slicks four years ago and has been in them ever since, used to have a desk next to mine in a literary agent’s office, and before he waved good-bye he said: “They keep telling me, cut out the clever-dialogue-for-its-own-sake, cut out the wise-cracks, and I did, and I broke in!”

Plot pattern that can be used in writing a comic magazine original, a pulp, a slick, or a literary story: Give the hero personal problem (he’s a coward, or his girl is mad at him for something about his character, or he’s trying to live down his crime past, etc.), then involve him in a new, bigger problem (affecting a whole town, or a whole range, or a poor old man, or the life of a lovely girl, etc.), and in an action climax have him solve both his personal problem and the bigger problem at the same time.

Examples:

1. (Liberty story mentioned above) Hero is a former gangster, goes to small town to forget crime past (personal problem); falls in love with town girl and she with him but he hesitates to take her from town boy who’s been her sweetheart from childhood (bigger problem); gangsters come up from big city to bump him, instead of fighting them as girl expects he will, he pretends he’s a coward before them, so sends girl back to childhood-sweetheart-town-boy, at end he is being taken for a ride by gangsters with you hoping he might escape out on the road but you never find out.

2. (Argosy story mentioned above) Hero trying to start dentist business in small town, gang at bus station don’t like him (personal problem). Girl he falls in love with his brother who is fugitive from big city gangsters, brother hiding out at girl’s house. Hero breaks into girl’s house to save her and brother (bigger problem) from gangsters when they arrive; hero and girl and brother escape, rush to bus station for help, in resultant fight bus station gang beat up gangsters, hero tries to fight but is booted around, but bus station gang sees hero is “regular,” they like him finally, and hero sees that he’ll get their dentist business henceforward.

Half the manuscripts that come into an editorial office can be spotted as amateur right off by their physical appearance: paper is soiled, worn; or story is written in ink or pencil; or script is wrapped in ridiculously elaborate or fantastic fashion. I’ve never been able to understand how a writer could hope to interest an editor in a story that was written on paper that was yellow with age, dirty with too much travel, obviously rejected a thousand times.

A writer should never stop reading the magazines he’s trying to sell. Even after he starts selling them he shouldn’t stop reading them. Fashions in stories change constantly, just as in clothes, and in much subtler ways. A writer should try at least to stay up with the fashions, and he needs to know them to do this. And when he gets sure enough of himself he might even try setting a fashion or two of his own.

In a pulp you make your action scenes full, detailed. In a slick you make them pretty brief, you tell simply what happened without “pumping it up,” and you clip your scene sometimes right in the middle of the action.

Take an action excerpt from our Argosy story for example:

And then Henry had the girl and they were on the staircase trying to make their feet go faster, and then the door slammed deafeningly above them and Ted was hurtling after them.

None of them breathed a word. It was all speed, nerve-bursting speed, and Henry virtually heaved Sis into the roadster, and was inserting the ignition key before he was halfway in. And Ted was scrambling in over the back and Sis was releasing the emergency brake.

The motor caught on the first stab at the starter, the front left fender scraped past the back right fender of the black sedan Myers had left cut in ahead of the roadster.

And then an excerpt from the Liberty story, the final “action” clash between the hero and the gangsters:

Eldredge said, “What’s the idea of hitting the girl?” And Mary’s deep-blue eyes flashed proud defiance. These killers were babies to her, before this man she loved.

Eldridge had his turn. The tall son went over to sim and slammed him not once but a dozen times. With the knuckles, with the open palm and on the back-swing.

The gangster spat: “An’ they told us you might get tough!”

I didn’t look at Mary’s face.

These are the fine shades of style that you must keep up with daily. In a Colliers story, the action climax will likely simply show the hero hitting the villain, that’s all. There’ll likely be no detail on it at all. In a Liberty story, there’ll be the least bit of detail, as above. In an Argosy story (Argosy is a shade more slick than most pulps) the action will be pretty detailed, as above, but still not as “super-tense” as most pulps. In a pulp the action scenes will be full, finished, completely detailed. Explanations will be full and completely clear in pulps, they’ll be clear but half-suggested most of the time in the slicks.

Which emphasizes what I said above, the need to know all the markets to write for any one. From now the slicks are tending literary, and now the pulps are tending literary, and now the pulps are tending slick—and you have to know exactly how much, for so far it is very, very little but it is happening.

There was the day Max Wilkinson, fiction editor of Colliers, told my agent to have me come up and talk to him. At last, I thought, at last I will really find out the inside likes and dislikes of Colliers editors, the kinds of stories that they prefer, the kinds they look down on, the secret taboos, etc., etc.

I said: “I seem to notice a great many war stories in Colliers lately—do you prefer them now?”

“Not at all,” Wilkinson said. “We just happen to get more good war stories lately than any other kind, so that’s what we print.”

And then I said: “I’ve heard that gangster stories are out of date now, that they are practically taboo in slick offices—is that true?”

And Wilkinson shook his head and said: “Certainly not that I know of. We’ll buy a good gangster story as readily as any other kind.”

Then Wilkinson began talking about what Colliers wanted in fiction, and when I could think of something I wanted to know I asked it. And one thing I asked was did they prefer girl interest in their stories, and Wilkerson said that it didn’t matter whether a story had girl interest or not, and so it went, and frankly this was the sum and substance of what I found out about Colliers fiction needs: They are always looking for a good story at Colliers.

And that is what most every editor will tell you, and you are wasting his time and yours trying to get anything more specific. The tough thing of course, is that every editor has his own ideas of what a “good story” is. But the good thing is that you as a writer do have complete and absolute freedom in your choice of a subject to write about. I had that truth brought home to me for the first time when my agent was talking to me right after he had taken me on.

I said: “I seem to notice that most of the stories that get published have an unusual background of some sort. Is it good to use an unusual background?”

And he said: “Not necessarily.”

I said: “Are there any particular kinds of stories that have a better chance than other kinds?”

He shook his head. He said: “Write any story that you feel like writing. Just be sure you make it a good story.”

And we could have no better proof of his being right than the Liberty and Argosy stories we’ve been analyzing: the background of the Liberty story is a small-town lunch wagon, and the background of the Argosy story is a small-town bus station, and certainly you couldn’t bear those for ordinariness.

There has been a great deal said about suspense. You hear exultant praise for the way such and such a writer has “maintained the suspense” in such and such a story. Suspense is a very simple thing. Take a character and make the reader like him and put him in trouble and keep him in trouble until the end of the story and you have “maintained the suspense.”

You do, though, have to be sure you make the reader care what happens to the character. And you do have to make the trouble he is in convincing.

One of my writers brought a novelette in to me recently. It had a hero that you liked, he was in trouble from beginning to end. Yet you did not feel suspense, you were not gripped by the story.

Trouble was, hero was such a powerful, capable guy you could never really worry about him—and the villains, though there were four of them, and they were all ruthless brutes, were still not very frightening. So my writer had the first half of suspense in his story (you liked the hero) but not his second (the trouble hero was in was not convincing).

Two fixes made a tense yarn out of this novelette:

1. We made the hero a champion for a couple of nice kids who were about to get married (so that though we didn’t have to worry so much about the hero, we did have to worry about these two kids).

2. We made the villains more frightening. The writer had introduced them in a scene in their hide-out early in the story, and you knew them so well from their talk that you did not fear them any longer; you felt that you knew their powers and limitations pretty thoroughly.

So we kept one villain unknown, only hinting now and then at his mysterious ruthlessness, deadliness. We made a second one active and present a great deal of the times, but we didn’t ever let him reveal himself to the reader, so that he kept you guessing. The other two gangsters we let be as they were, just brute henchmen.

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Jane Smiley: The WD Interview

To overcome writer’s block, Pulitzer Prize winner Jane Smiley read 100 novels. It was the perfect medicine. She talks about the lessons those novels taught her in this January 2006 WD interview.

January 2006

By Maria Schneider

Most novelists have, at some point in their careers, endured getting stuck halfway through writing a book. But when Jane Smiley, author of 11 novels (including the Pulitzer Prize-winning A Thousand Acres) was 200 pages into writing Good Faith, she completely lost the will to continue. The terrorist attacks of 9/11 had left her despondent to the point that she felt compelled to relearn the craft she’d practiced for so many years. She turned to novels for sustenance, wisdom and inspiration, and this simple act turned into an extraordinary venture—reading 100 novels and extrapolating their lessons for her book Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Novel.

Smiley began with the 10th century The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu and meandered through the centuries, finally arriving at Ian McEwan’s 2001 offering, Atonement. She came to some fascinating conclusions about such fundamental questions as “What is a novel?” and “Who is a novelist?” The answers she found on her journey are poignant, lighthearted and opinionated.

In this candid interview, Smiley distills her exquisitely well-researched deconstruction of the novel form. She also shares with WD her insights on novel writing as a learned art and why—good news!—novelists just get better with age.

How did you begin to undertake this enormous project?

The impetus was to escape the constant barrage of media attention to 9/11, so I chose the most distant novel I could find, The Tale of Genji, written in the 10th century. Then I chose an Icelandic novel written in the 12th century. I was struck by the fact that they were not at all irrelevant to the world we’re living in now. I found that this project, almost from the beginning, spurred me on to keep writing my novel.

How did you go about putting your list together? Was it methodical or random?

At first I thought I was going to read a novel from every year for the last 250 years, but then I realized that there wasn’t a decent novel written every year in the early 18th and 19th centuries. I also knew I wasn’t going to be able to read 250 novels in any kind of quick time, so I decided instead to read 100.

The earliest novels walked onto the list immediately. I’d never read Don Quixote and I’d never read The Decameron by Boccaccio, so I wanted to read them. And then the novels naturally link up. For example, I was reading The Decameron and learned about the French book it inspired, The Heptameron by Marguerite de Navarre. The Heptameron turned out to be one of the most central and important books I read. There were connections like that. So instead of designing the list in any way, I’d let one book lead to another.

What I wanted to do was to have a typical reading list, without intending to get anywhere. My goal was to learn about the anatomy of the novel. Any hundred novels are going to tell you a lot about the nature of the novel.

[Read the outtakes of our September 2015 interview with Jane Smiley.]

Any unexpected favorites? Least favorite?

There were some that I had never read before that were really wonderful, such as The Expedition of Humphry Clinker by Tobias Smollett. I also enjoyed The Once and Future King by T.H. White and The Fountain Overflows by Rebecca West. And yes, there were novels that I found shallow and trivial. I found Joyce’s Ulysses very tedious to read, but this is my opinion.

The great thing about reading novels is, nobody can tell you whether or not you should like a certain novel. When you open a book, it belongs to you because it exists in your mind. You can judge it however you want. But if a novel has sustained the interest of lots of people over a hundred years or more, it’s probably worth reading.

In your book you write: “A novelist can only write a string of novels if he or she is ready to embrace new ideas with as much conviction as he or she embraced earlier ideas.” Can you expand on this?

You have to have a lot of energy and conviction to propel yourself through the writing of a novel, because often it takes a year, two years, or more. So the interest in the subject has to be a compelling one. And lots of times the reason the subject is compelling is because you have passionate convictions about it. But in most people’s lives the passionate convictions they have at 21 aren’t the same as when they’re 50. Most prolific writers are, by nature, people of passionate ideas, but the particular ideas that make them passionate tend to come and go over the years. They keep going by taking up new ideas with that same passion.

You also say, “A novelist is on the cusp between someone who knows everything and someone who knows nothing.”

Novels often have specialized information, but they’re usually about recognizable—even average—people engaging in interesting jobs or incidents. They’re not about specialized knowledge.

They’re really written for, and always have been written for, commercial interests. They’re meant to appeal to average readers.

A novelist often learns about lots of things, but what he’s really interested in is what life is like. What it feels to be alive. How it feels moment-by-moment going through a certain experience. When you’re trying to write a novel, there’s always a temptation to natter on. There’s always the danger that you’ll natter on about everything and say nothing, or go off on some hobbyhorse of your own and say nothing of general interest. You’re constantly trying to maintain this balance of being specific enough to be interesting but general enough to have wide appeal.

You say throughout the book that early novels seek to answer the question, What’s to be done about women? So are you getting at the novel’s role as an instrument for social change?

That was the thrust of the European novel until the beginning of the 20th century: What is a woman? Is she an agent of her own life or a possession to be traded back and forth? At the beginning of the 18th century the woman was an object. As people read novels they saw this. You can read the book Pamela, for example, and as you’re entertained from the suspense, you’re also educated to Pamela’s point of view. One of the ways the novel works is it introduces you to the point of view of people quite different from you.

When a novel is really long—300 pages or more—the novelist has that much more time to shape the reader’s ideas. So this works by a drip, drip, drip process. Once they’re in your mind, especially if things have been entertainingly expressed, then they’re in your mind and it’s hard to get them out. Everybody has novels they read years ago that they can still see scenes from or think about rather often. The author has introduced his sensibility into yours and your ability to simply remain cocooned in your own life has been breached by the author.

You imply that novelists tend to mature later in life. Why?

Most people begin to think about writing a novel when things seem to come together to form a larger picture. That’s a sign that the person has a larger sense of how the world works. The brain is more capable of integrating various experiences.

And that’s what I think novels are about. It’s also why poets often are much more precocious than novelists, because their verbal fluency could be very high and they work that out by writing poetry early on. Novelists are much more like average people.

Did the experience of winning the Pulitzer Prize have any effect on your writing?

You go from being a wannabe to a has-been in the space of an afternoon laughs]. It’s wonderful, but before you win, you’re cooler because you’re outside the establishment, and after you win, you’re inside the establishment—you’re not as cool as you used to be.

Anyway, when I won the Pulitzer I was four months pregnant and I’d already started my next novel, so I couldn’t just start going around celebrating. I ran into Michael Cunningham once after he’d won the Pulitzer, and he’d spent an entire year on the road celebrating. I couldn’t do that because I was going to have a baby. It didn’t change my lifestyle. It didn’t really change anything except it shifted my reputation from one thing to another. I didn’t feel much pressure from it because I’d already started my next novel.

What’s your writing process like?

It’s really simple. I get up and write three pages a day and try to do that five days a week. If I come up to some fact that I don’t know, I stop and jump on the Internet and try to find out about that.

And what are you working on now?

A novel about Hollywood and sex and movies and luxury. All of those fun subjects that aren’t in A Thousand Acres.

You’ve written mysteries, romances, nonfiction books— you seem to hop from genre to genre. Why?

Whenever I finish a novel, I long for those things that the novel didn’t have in it. Although I loved writing Horse Heaven, after it, I longed to write a novel that was more intense and suspenseful, so I wrote Good Faith. While I was writing Good Faith, I longed to write something a little broader. Any novel sets me up to write the next novel.

Any advice for aspiring novelists? Read 100 books?

Well, read lots of books. Every novelist I came up with was an avid reader of novels and had been all of his life. Some, like Jane Austen, were great promoters of novel reading.

A lot of people come up to me and say, “Oh such-and-such thing happened to me and it was really interesting and you should write a novel about it.” But it’s not life that makes you a novelist, it’s reading novels that makes you a novelist. Most novelists do have an ear for language and lots of times that comes from growing up in a gossipy or talkative family. If you want to be a novelist you have to read novels and you also have to develop your ear for language.

Every person in the world has enough material in his life to be a novelist. The key is to have a novelist’s sensibility—and the only way you can do that is by being very familiar with novels and loving them and wanting to write one of your own.

A friend, a painter, told me that sometimes he goes to a museum and stands in front of a painting in awe, thinking, I’ll never be able to do that. No novelist stands in front of a novel in awe and says, “I’ll never be able to do that.” Every novelist thinks, about any particular novel: That’s pretty good but if he’d only done blah, blah it would have been a lot better. So as soon as you take Anna Karenina, for example, and think, He should have done blah, blah, you’re off on the track that leads you to writing your own novel.

That’s the wonderful thing about a novel. No matter how great its reputation is, when you’re sitting alone in your bedroom with it, you can think whatever you want. And that critical thought, that feeling that something’s not quite right—those are the thoughts that spur you toward writing your own novel. Those thoughts should be cherished.