chapter 1

The tao of novel writing

Nov 19, 2013

If you didn’t know the world is halfway through National Novel Writing Month. There are over 303,000 novelists registered on the site. The site gives you the ability to connect with other writers and get “pep talks,” which I hope would include Brian Cox from “Adaptation” screaming at the top of his lungs to tell you how fucking stupid you are. According to the Wikipage “by 2010 over 200,000 people signed up and 2,872,682,109 words were written.”

It would be easy to deride the project, for the last thing the world needs are more shitty novelists. For as Flannery O’Connor famously quipped, “Everywhere I go I’m asked if I think the university stifles writers. My opinion is that they don’t stifle enough of them. There’s many a best-seller that could have been prevented by a good teacher.”

I thought of Novel Writing Month the other day when I finished writing my second book. It ended up 45,000-words in length, which was my goal. It is my second finished novel, though I will say this is where the fun begins. I can’t speak for my fellow writers on the NNWM site—and they are all writers in my eyes—but the rewriting process is the easy part, the part where adding and subtracting separates, as it were, the writers from the hacks.


Kenneth Griggs is a writer and bartender living in Chicago, IL. He has hitchhiked through the Australian Outback; lived in a small fishing village in Japan; climbed Mount Kilimanjaro; and ran with the bulls in Pamplona. He spent six years as a feature writer for a daily and weekly newspaper and has two unpublished novels to his name. But his finest accomplishment is not yet sprouting a gin blossom nose.

  • Paul Caudell

    Great piece, inspired me to pick up a book that I almost finished but gave up on. I should finish it even if it never makes it to a second draft. Cheers!

    • Dexter’s Library

      Absolutely you should. The only difference between people like us and successful writers is they never stop writing.

  • Pete

    I feel you, brother. While reading it I couldn’t help but shake the feeling that I had read it before as the gripes and chagrins of other writers; old and young and good and bad. Not to say that this was in anyway stolen, but that it is very much a shared feeling of experience. I think I’m remembering most an essay by Henry Miller in which he essentially says that at his best he wrote for no one and nothing. The story arc of a writer is grand ambitions followed by tedium and rejection and then ultimately, a self-inspired indifference. The epiphany that there isn’t really an ending to the road. There’s no destination that once reached validates all the empty scrawling. Writing, in the end, is just an act; a long walk with nowhere to go. A wandering. And after all, I think that is its virtue – that it is a boundless exercise in thinking.

    It takes a special kind of mind to know that the dark of the void is endless and to keep on reaching for its end. Whether or not that mind is marked by a rare brilliance or a unique form of insanity, ill leave to others. I’m only 24 (I’m supposed to say that, right?) and I have written nothing of any length or consequence and I’m not sure I ever plan to, but I enjoy organizing my thoughts from time to time. It makes them stronger, I think, and that’s good enough for me.

    I admire your persistence and hope that someday you might find recognition for your work if so only you can bask for a moment in its faint glow as you throw it crumpled on the fire.

    P.S. Though if you do ever become the next Hemingway, I’m inviting myself along on all the drunken escapades and adventures.

    • Dexter’s Library

      “Self-inspired indifference” is the best thing I’m gonna read today. Thoughtful as always, Pete.