In 2002 Donald Maass published Writing the Breakout Novel, a book now famous throughout the writing land. I sat in the fifth row, through his all-day workshop in Orange County in 2004, thinking: “This guy scares the bejeezus out of me. I’ll never learn all this.”
I was still a baby writer. He was talking about “tension on every page” and “breakout novels” and honestly, I didn’t know what the hell any of that meant yet.
I hadn’t written enough, read widely enough. Hell, I hadn’t lived bravely enough at that point to grasp what he meant.
“Writing the breakout novel demands a commitment to life. How can you engage readers in your fictional world if you, the author, are not engaged by your own world? To write about life, you must live it. You cannot make readers cry or feel joy until you have wept and exulted yourself.”
— Donald Maass, Writing the Breakout Novel
Some people are born knowing how to write. Most of us are not. We have to work and play and learn. We have to write and SUCK at it, and write some more.
I’ve written about Malcolm Gladwell’s theory that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to master anything. Since math isn’t my strongest skill, let me break that down. If you wrote 8 hours a day, taking into account the various sick days, it would take you FOUR years of solid work to master the craft of writing.
That means if you’re like me, constantly impatient to “be there already,” you’ve got a looooong wait in front of you.
I’ve never written more than 2-3 hours a day, and I usually take a few days off. That means, if I include the 700 blogs, 71 non-fiction articles, 23 short stories, 9 unfinished novels and 1 book I’ve fully drafted, I might be getting somewhere close to “there.” Sometime in the next few years. If I keep working as hard as I am now.
Before, y’all start getting depressed about how long this writing thing takes, or wondering when you’re going to “break out,” ask yourself something:
Have you jumped yet?
Here’s what it means to “jump.”
I don’t love that the video equates success to snazzy cars, but I adore that Harvey tells you to be fearless.
Here’s how “The Donald” puts it:
“In both life and fiction, when people act in ways that are unusual, unexpected, dramatic, decisive, full of consequence, and irreversible, we remember them and talk about them for years. Isn’t that the effect you want to achieve?”
— Donald Maass, The Breakout Novelist
I just spent some time with an amazing infographic from BlinkBox Books examining “the careers of some of the world’s most successful authors. You can sort by first published book, age at breakthrough book, and number of books published.”
It’s extraordinary and extremely revealing to see the impact these novelists have had. Especially those like James Joyce, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Charlotte Brontë, who only wrote five books. That infographic illuminates that quality of fiction and depth of character are what make an author memorable.
That infographic is the reason why I wrote this post. It’s Thoughty Thursday, and I’m thinking it’s time to JUMP! How about you?
What brave moments come to mind, where you jumped with both feet? How did it turn out? What did you learn from it? Enquiring minds LOVE to know about these things here at More Cowbell!