Humble Executive. Literary Artist. Altruistic Libertarian.
The Literary Novel: Why (and How) You Should Write One
By an Unpublished, Unknown and Very Successful Novelist
2nd Edition, May 2009
She said merely that it was a delightful pastime because,
even if the flowers that sprang from the brush were nothing wonderful,
at least the work made you live in the company of real flowers, of the beauty of which,
especially when you were obliged to study them closely in order to draw them, you could never grow tired.
Proust, Within a Budding Grove
For man (alas) is but the heaven’s sport;
And art indeed is long, but life is short.
The mundane world presses inexorably upon every facet of our existence each moment of every day. Without relief, only undying purposelessness awaits us as we awake each morning and don our civilized masks and submit to a duty to which we have been – typically without our deliberation – indentured. Early 21st Century modern technical society crushes us into conforming sameness and squeezes originality from us like brackish ooze every year until we look and behave more or less like our neighbors and our parents, and whatever interior mountainous landscapes that may have once beckoned to us now lie reduced to flat mindless plain.
As we grow older our spirit cools, until we no longer recognize – no longer remember – that once a youthful desire to be something other than ordinary lit our ambition like a flaming torch, and burned us with an intense insistence to embrace life, our life, the only one granted us for this limited duration, an insistence that launched our spirits into the unknown, seeking adventure and straining at the moral boundaries so often articulated by parents, schools, church, society.
But for some people, no: no such calling took place; no imperative to live autonomously; no desire to be other. For those who find themselves happily conforming, this book is not for you. You already know the truth as revealed by whatever god you worship. No screaming noise emanates from within demanding to know more, to be more. You live free from spiritual want, from moral question. You pray only that nothing changes ever.
This book is a polemic: it argues that art is done for it’s own sake, and the sake of the artist; that within a fully autonomous life the creation of art is fundamental; that within the sphere of art literature stands foremost; and within literature, the novel; that each aesthetically capable individual should write at least one, and that by doing so, that individual will fill the spaces that surround an otherwise empty, futile, and ephemeral existence, and may even, with the completed work, contribute something of inestimable value to the human universe.
I am not a professional writer. Nothing I have written has been published or paid for. I make my living in commercial society like tens of millions of others. What makes me different, if anything, is my intense desire to create literary works of art. Only the literary novel can express the deepest, the grandest, the most profound vision of human existence, and only a few individuals in any society have the ability, the desire, or the opportunity to participate in this creative activity. Are you one of those people?
For those worthy of the challenge, this book offers insight into how you might fulfill your life in ways you may not have considered; it provides the motivation and the direction you need to answer that sense of what you could be; it explains why your literary effort is entirely for your own benefit, and no one else’s. The most selfish thing you could do.
I have no doubt at all the Devil grins,
As seas of ink I spatter.
Ye Gods, forgive my “Literary” sins—
The other kind don’t matter. (1)
We must all choose what to worship, or risk, as William Blake wrote in a different context, having it choose you. Or you may remain unchosen and worship nothing—not even the actual meaninglessness that marks human existence.
Life is what triumphs over nature, even as nature triumphs over imagination. Life is death-in-life, … a cold, common hell in which we wake to weep. (2)
Oscar Wilde asserted that “Self-culture is the true ideal of man.” (3) If this is so, then every thinking, literate, aesthetically aware person should attempt to create—at some point in their life—some element of personal artistic expression. Nietzsche famously insisted that “Art represents the highest task and the truly metaphysical activity of this life.” (4)
This expression might take the form of painting, poetry, musical composition—or even a novel. While many people enjoy art in some fashion, (watching movies, listening to music) few take the next essential step, and actually develop the capacity to produce their own unique work. Those who do enjoy rewards that others cannot imagine. “Existence and the world are eternally justified solely as an aesthetic phenomenon,” (5) Nietzsche famously asserted. Only the aesthetically created marks the essential difference between an individual human life and the existence of a mindless stone.
“It’s easy, after all, not to be a writer. Most people aren’t writers, and very little harm comes to them.” (6) And yet, unknown harm comes to those who have the opportunity and the ability to create their own literary expression, but, for whatever reason, fail to pursue that fleeting dream. Anyone who passionately reads will likely, at some point in their life, desire to create that which they so admire. In some cases, they make halting attempts and quit. In others, they will carry the dream into middle age, often declaring their sincere intent to write a wonderful novel, and yet when the last day passes, they possess only “half a page of scribbled lines…” (7)
This artistic failure harms the spirit in the worst way, particularly if that unrealized novel, in whatever form it might have taken—read or not, published or not—could otherwise have redeemed an otherwise forgettable life:
To have accomplished nothing and to die overworked. (8)
The creation of a unique artistic expression individuates the artist, makes him or her special, utterly distinguishing them from every human who ever lived. The artistic act strikes through the surface of life and leaves a mark unlike any other, sometimes one imperceptible to others, yet irreproducible, while in rare cases lighting up the human universe in raging emotional flame. The satisfying experience while creating the work (despite, in some cases, a tortuous labor), the tremendous sense of accomplishment when it’s through—whether a minor spark or major explosion—remain with the author forever.
One cannot be a man or become a writer without tracing a horizon line beyond oneself... (9)
Creating that unique art object provides that trace towards the eternally infinite, even if the artistic beam flashes only a moment, so faint no one else even notices.
But why, as an unpublished author, do I consider myself successful? Because I have completed six goods novel, and am working on a seventh. Anyone who has accomplished something similar, gone through the steps necessary to conceive, write and finish a worthy literary novel, will also consider themselves a success, regardless of what others think.
We are—this writer and the reader—presumably serious persons, or the one of us would not have undertaken to write and the other to read this work. (10)
Some people seem born natural artists, and never question its primacy. Others, such as myself, have taken the long road to reach this understanding. In the chapters that follow, I will trace that turbulent path, beginning with the nature of reality, the existential realm of the human universe, and the relationship between art, science, actuality and the individual (Ch 1). After traversing this rocky, barren terrain, we reach the verdant forests of Art itself. Beneath the great canopy of Art’s realm, amongst the branches rife with imaginated creatures dancing to polyphonic music, we explore the genuine nature of Art and what makes it special (Ch 2), followed by a working definition (Ch 3). We examine the general nature of the artist, and the artist’s relationship to friends and society (Ch 4). In doing so, we discover the path that climbs into the heights of literature towards its novelistic peaks, and proceed along this acclivity until we reach the summit, where we find the novelist himself gazing towards distant worlds. We ask, Who should write novels, and Why? (Ch 5) Do we wish to become famous, wealthy, esteemed perhaps? And if we have no rational hope of achieving fame or wealth, should we proceed despite commercial hopelessness?
Given that reading builds the foundation for all novelists, Chapter 6 reviews the nature of reading, followed by a chapter on literary taste and the need to acquire it (Ch 7). This is followed by an extended critical treatment of Ayn Rand (Ch 8), and then a discussion of what a novelist should strive to achieve (Ch 9). The final two chapters are devoted to discussing the major elements that contribute to actually writing a literary novel (Ch 10).
Along the way, we encounter the following major themes:
Quotations in my work are like wayside robbers who leap out, armed, and relieve the idle stroller of his conviction. (11)
Throughout this work the thoughts of others saturate each page, as I have enlisted to best minds in literary history to contribute to each phase of the discussion, including 734 contributions from 184 authors. Doing so provides the text with additional authority, credibility and interest, and enmeshes it within the literary tradition:
Much of [Montaigne’s] writing starts with a quotation that sets him to ruminating on his own, buttressed by more quotations, making a sort of palimpsest. If nothing else, he was superb arranger of other men’s flowers. (12)
While evoking the names of Montaigne and Benjamin puts me in lofty company, I am reminded of Cioran’s warning:
Woe to the writer who fails to cultivate his megalomania, who sees it diminished without taking action. He will soon discover that one does not become normal with impunity. (13)
Hopefully this literary flower garden will prove aesthetically pleasing for those who choose to wander through it, and helpful for the latent novelist. And while the magnitude of the subject may appear unreasonably vast, I follow T. S. Elliot in selecting a large arena in which to play (although one larger, perhaps, then he would consider appropriate):
…it may be observed that to write in this way of men like Dante or Shakespeare is really less presumptuous that to write of smaller men. The very vastness of the subject leaves a possibility that one may have something to say worth saying; whereas with smaller men, only minute and special study is likely to justify writing about them at all. (14)
Finally, Nabokov’s Humbert Humbert extols us to “Imagine me; I shall not exist if you do not imagine me…” (15) We must all of us imagine ourselves, to truly exist. We make this imagining personally real through the active creation of art.
How sweet it is, that words and sounds of music exist:
are words and music not rainbows and seeming
bridges between things eternally separated?
Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra