Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass (Part 6)

This entry is part 6 of 27 in the series Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass

Donald Maass: Introduction

Maass is crass and direct. This is what I needed more than anything else. Even if I were to continue trying my hand at literary novels (and I’m not), I needed to hear his advice. I needed to take a harsher line with my work.

Donald Maass is an agent but he’s also an author. He’s written seventeen novels. With that kind of volume, his words carry some literal weight.

Can anyone become a great novelist, an author of a body of enduring classics? Perhaps not. Anyway, few do. However, I do know this: Any author who can write a salable novel can also improve, and virtually all writers can write a breakout novel. How do I know? Because it happens all the time. I have seen it happen. So have you.

Now, here is the point where a hack will take off and drip platitudes into your ear. They will tell you that you are a beautiful and special flower. They will, in short, lie.

What I like about Maass is that he doesn’t play nice. He tells you up front that to be successful you need to be willing to work, really work. That is the root of my own problem. I have potential. I am clever and lyrical (self-professed) but I lean on that natural talent far too much. I use my capacity with words to mask what are fatal errors in planning and execution. In short, I’m an amateur, a hobbyist. If I’m ever going to be successful I need to work.

Writing a breakout novel is as much about cultivating an outlook as anything. It is the habit of avoiding the obvious or of covering familiar ground. […]

It is to delve deeper, think harder, revise more, and commit to creating characters and plot that surpass one’s previous accomplishments. It is to say “no” to merely being good enough to be published. It is a commitment to quality. […]

This book is not for those who wish to get rich quick. There is nothing quick about the fiction game. Instead, it is a book for dedicated craftspeople: The kind of folk whose work is so fine and apparently effortless that onlookers call it art.

This sings to me for numerous reasons, but you would be right to ask what the heck I was thinking. Wasn’t this just what I spent 1,000 words telling you I wasn’t going to do? Indeed, it was, but there’s a twist and I hope it will become apparent as we move through the book together.

One last quote though:

Over the years I have noticed that first novels tend to feel small. The scope of the action is often limited. The horizons of the author’s world are limited to a couple of characters. There is nothing wrong with that. It is natural. Strong first novels do get published and can even win acclaim. However, it is difficult for one to make a lasting impact — that is, to grow an audience — by continuing to write at that contained level.

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