Sept. 29, 2008 -- Yes.
The best way to learn how to write is by writing. Any poet, fiction writer, or memoirist will say the same, but for a novelist, this is especially true. To reach a bare minimum of 40,000 words, you must put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard, again and again and again.
And this is what we are about to do at a novel writing class at the University of Winchester MA Programme in Creative and Critical Writing. Write.
There are just four students signed up for this class in the south of England. By next week, they'll be bringing into class 3,000 words. I'm in the middle of a novel, so I've promised to edit as many words as they write afresh.
We will not expect beautiful prose, though some beautiful prose will, I suspect, emerge. We will not expect a perfect structure, although structure, once we have a whole, will slowly (or precipitously) take shape. Characters will begin as pale shadows in dark corners, then walk out confidently into the sunshine by word 12, 587 (I predict) and make themselves known. Grand ideas they start with may go by the wayside but be replaced by more subtle, apt themes that they recognize on page 111 and realize that, once they’re done, they will have to imbue into p. 1. The beginning may stick, or it may go. They may know the end and keep to it, or the end may be uncertain until they write it – then change again. And the middle will not likely be the natural progression that they aim for, at least not yet.
But they will not know any of this until they write this lowly, sloppy, feeling-in-the-dark first draft. It will be a wonderful mess.
At the end, students will be marked on a short bit of the novel, which they will polish in January. How sharp their vision may be then! And we will read, read, read to analyze how in the world other novelists do it.
But mostly, we will write. In the words of Roethke,
I learn by going where I have to go.