Can You Model Successful Novelists?
By Larry Kahaner
Modeling successful people works, but in their desire to do what novelists do, many new writers often ask the wrong questions: Do you write in the morning? Do you use a pen? Does whiskey help? Which notebook is the best? These are superficial queries that don’t get to the essence of becoming a successful author.
Ask any professional writer and he or she will say the same exact thing:
Sit in your chair and write.
Many people don’t want to hear this because it means hard work. It’s much easier to buy the exact pen that your writer hero uses or purchase that ‘special’ notebook.
Writing is hard, but the more you write, the easier it gets. Big surprise. Even the best baseball players still take batting practice every day because the more they do it, the easier it becomes to hit the fastball. This goes for everything in life.
So, how can a new writer practice if he or she doesn’t have a book in the works (or even if he does)? Here’s something that I’ve used and it might work for you. Watch people around you. Coffee shops provide a good venue. So does your workplace. Sitting in public transit offers opportunities. Eavesdrop on people. You don’t have to catch everything they say. In fact, it’s better if you don’t. Notice their mannerisms, their clothing, how they move their hands, how they express themselves…
Then, write a small scene based on what you see and feel about what’s going on. It doesn’t have to be accurate. In fact, it better not be. Feel free to embellish; add you own spin. Make up dialogue, a short back story if you want. Write a paragraph, maybe two. Whatever feels right, but don’t go on for too long. Keep hitting practice pitches, not play an entire ballgame. Artists do something similar. They will often sketch or paint parts of a scene, sometimes for practice and sometimes to get a small item just right before starting a canvas. They call them studies, and it may just be an arm, cloud or tree. Leonardo DaVinci did this a lot.
I write these studies from time to time when I see an interesting person or situation. It keeps my fiction muscles limber.
Recently, I was visiting Toronto, having breakfast at a Tim Horton’s, when a striking looking person walked in. I not only watched her but those around her. In some ways, their reactions were even more interesting.
Here’s what I later wrote:
Everyone in the coffee shop watched her six-foot transvestite frame enter in sections. First in were her bruised legs atop transparent stilettos. Next, her boyish hips followed by a white, powdered face. She thought it was a good idea to have stocking seams tattooed in blue on the back of her legs. The lines stopped at her child-sized ass which peaked out from below her skirt. Some breakfasters watched in horror, others with contempt, still others with confusion, as the woman tapped along the tiles, wiggly-wobbly, challenging gravity. Remarkably, she remained upright long enough to order a coffee which, when she spun to exit, immediately spilled on a man and his family visiting from the Midwest.
“Sorry, honeys,” she said, both eyes pointing in different directions. “Just a little sketchy this morning.”
The story is only partly as it happened – I made up the last quote among other small ‘facts’ – but it served as my batting practice. My challenge was to get on the screen how I felt about what occurred in front of me, to describe it as if it was a scene in a novel. I have no idea why I wrote it in an over-the-top noir style; I just felt like it. Will I use this later in a book? Maybe.
Try it. I guarantee that the only way to become a writer is to write. If you do that, everything else eventually will fall into place.