Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Secrets of a Master Novelist

By Jeff Bennington

Like many people, I’ve had multiple occupations in my life, scrounging through positions like a dumpster-diver, digging for the secret to my soul. I’d go to work and think about writing a book some day. Then a few years later, I’d think about it again. Sometimes I felt inspired to write a few songs or poems, but determined that I had experienced a chemical imbalance, melancholy blues, or lack of vitamin D. That was probably an accurate diagnosis, but the point is, I never noticed the red flags flying, waving, snapping their thunderous threads, clapping for my attention.

The red flags had a message. And if you could’ve analyzed my life, and examined the evidence, you might’ve noticed that I was on the wrong track.

I didn’t see it

I was too busy with my fledgling attempts at success to hear the call. I had strapped on a pair of fulfillment-blinders and kept my gaze firmly fixed on that which left me passionless. I was spiritually self-medicating on a false perception of what life was meant to be and who I was. I didn’t know that I was a writer. I didn’t know, although I suspected, that God had gifted me in that area. Yet I had never experienced the level of satisfaction one gets when transposing his thoughts and dreams into a full-length novel.

Oh sure, I enjoyed writing college papers and telling my kids absorbing bedtime stories, but that was different. That was business. That was just being a dad.

That was my ignorance.

I was clueless about what it meant to be a writer until sometime in 2007’ish. I’ll save you the gory details about what I’ve penned since then, because at this point, only three of those works are even worthy of discussion. However, I will tell you this; my literary reviews cover the full gamut from, “This is the best thing since bottled spring water!” to “Poor writing skills...One Star...YOU SUCK!”

Most writers can relate to the pain and joys of writing, a craft that can never be perfected, at least not in the eyes of the author. The way I see it, the craft of writing requires diligent study, loads of reading, thick skin, saint-like humility, and a consistent routine. But there is one secret that the master-craftsmen never reveal. It’s a secret that’s been kept in literary vaults since Moses locked the Ten Commandments into the Arc of the Covenant.

What’s the secret?

The secret of a master novelist is that writing, as in good writing, has nothing to do with money, it has nothing to do with an author platform, snagging an agent or getting that elusive contract. The secret every would-be, aspiring, want-to-make-it-someday author needs to know is simple; if you don’t love it, if you don’t drink literature by the gallons, if you can’t enjoy sitting still, dreaming, rewriting, plotting, taking criticism, breathing life into a new character and feeling absolutely passionate about your words and what they mean to no one else but yourselfyou will never know how excellent you can be.

In my opinion, writing has less to do with the skill of carving stories out of words, and more to do with the love of the sculpture, including the pieces of stone that crumble to the ground. 

What do you think?

-Jeff Bennington
Author of REUNION & Other Thrillers

***Be sure to read my previous posts where I interview writers who are living their dream, fully commited to the craft. BOOM!


  1. Great post. I took the plunge myself, and three months ago published my first novel on Kindle. I can't claim to have the secrets of a master novelist, but what you've said here certainly seems to ring true. I'm always struck by how similar the process of writing is to having a good conversation. Each is satisfying for its own sake and is buoyed by rhythms it invents as it goes along (which in both cases are remarkably alike). Ironic, really, that writing should be a solitary exercise!

  2. Thanks Robert.
    It's clear that you love writing and that you get it. And don't be affraid to mention your book. This is a writer & reader blog afterall. Besides, I preach platform promotion around here, and how do you think non-book-promoting comments reflects on me?

    Thanks for dropping in.
    Author of Reunion & other thrillers

  3. Thanks Jeff. My Kindle novel is called The Cambridge List, a dark comedy thriller set in Cambridge University: A student's use of unlicensed antidepressants causes him to hear the voices of the Greek gods, who compel him to murder his professors one-by-one. The book follows the journey of this emergent sociopath, whose crimes turn out to have consequences unforeseen even by the gods themselves.

    Thanks for the chance to mention it on your blog!

  4. Sheilagh Lee:so true it's about the writing letting the words flow and letting yourself and enjoy the words


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