About Writing a Novel (taken from the list of Alexander Chee)

About Writing a Novel (taken from the list of Alexander Chee)

Alexander Chee is the bestselling author of the novels Edinburgh, The Queen of the Night, and the essay collection How To Write An Autobiographical Novel. The following post is taken from his work 100 THINGS ABOUT WRITING A NOVEL.  Since I have written three novels  (all yet to be published) and since I know many of my readers are also writers, I am sharing some of the intelligent and humorous ideas that Chee has included in his list. This list is for writers, but readers will love it too. Thanks for reading…(and please note: the numbers in my post do not necessarily coincide with his original numbers.)

  1. A novel, like all written things, is a piece of music, the language demanding you make a sound as you read it. Writing one, then, is like remembering a song you’ve never heard before.
  2. I have written novels on subways, missing stops, as people do when reading them.
  3. They can begin with the implications of a situation. A person who is like this in a place that is like this, an integer set into the heart of an equation and new values, everywhere.
  4. The person and the situation typically arrive together. I am standing somewhere and watch as both appear, move toward each other, and transform.
  5. Or like having imaginary friends that are the length of city blocks.
  6. You write the novel because you have to write, in the end. You do it because it is easier to do than not to do. After all, a dragon has come all this way and it knows your name.
  7. I do not answer the question What is the novel about? or How is the writing going? It is because my sense of a novel changes in the same way my knowledge of someone changes.
  8. Novels are delicate when they are being written, if also voracious. They move around my rooms, stripping half-finished poems of their lines, stealing ideas from unfinished essays, diaries, letters, and sometimes each other. Sometimes, by the time I get to them, one has taken a huge bite out of the other.
  9. Revision means turning something like laundry into something like Christmas.
  10. This is because the first draft is like scaffolding; often it must be torn down to uncover the things being built underneath. Which is to say, some second drafts, when they emerge, have very little visible relation to the first.
  11. The novel coming not from the mind but the heart, which is why it cannot fit in your head. Why, when you hear it, it seems to be singing from somewhere just out of your sight, always.
  12. Everyone has a novel in them, people like to say. They smile when they say it, as if the novel is special precisely because everyone has at least one. Think of a conveyor belt of infant souls passing down from heaven, rows of tired angels pausing to slip a paperback into their innocent, wordless hearts.
  13. What if the novel in you is one you yourself would never read? A beach novel, a blockbuster, a long windy character-driven literary drama that ends sadly? What if the one novel in you is the opposite of your idea of yourself?
  14. All the while, we know that in some cultures we would be revered as gods. In others, put to death.
  15. Novels do not take orders well, if at all. They are not soldiers, usually, or waiters. They do badly at housework and will not clean silver.
  16. For most, novels are accidents at their start. Writers lining the streets of the imagination, hoping to get struck and dragged, taken far away. We crawl from under the car at the destination and sneak away with our prize.
  17. The novel is a letter from the novel to the reader, and dictated to the writer by the writer.
  18. I just need to get a drink, I’ll be right back, the novel says. Do you want anything?
  19. Days later the novel returns. I wasn’t with anyone else, the novel says. There’s only you, the novel adds, even as the writer fears it has taken up with others. Imaging pages across the other desks of the neighborhood.
  20. There’s only you, the novel says again. The novel is already at the door, waiting, but for a little. It is the lover again, wanting again for you to know everything.

Thanks to Alexander Chee, department of English and Creative Writing, Dartmouth 

10 thoughts on “About Writing a Novel (taken from the list of Alexander Chee)

  1. Alexander Chee states….”First Draft is like scaffolding…..second drafts, when they emerge, have very little visible relation to the first.” So if you are ready to give up on a creative idea continue to persevere!!!!!! There is hope…… 🙂

  2. Although I haven’t written a novel, even the thought of it is overwhelming, I do completely understand the concept of writing because I need to, that’s why I blog. Sometimes there are posts that seem to burst out of me, these are always my more serious pieces.

    • Yes, we are enlightened on certain days and on others we stare at the keyboard. Yikes. But for you, baking is always a winner.

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