Every man is, more or less, the sport of accident; nor do I know that authors are at all exempted from this humiliating influence.
Are you attempting NaNoWriMo this year? For those of you who read that and went “what?” NaNoWriMo is short for “National Novel Writing Month” where writers of all skill levels commit to writing at least 50 thousand words toward a complete novel during the month of November. This year, I wanted to do it but scheduling and other issues will mean I have to defer the challenge for yet another year.
However, while I was doing some research for this month’s literary topic, I came across some quotes from one of the first great American novelists which will encourage you whether you are participating in NaNoWriMo, planning your next blog post, or working on a large documentation project for your business.
The quotes come from a letter James Fenimore Cooper wrote to his bookseller in 1823 shortly before his third novel, which was his first runaway success, went to print.
A short introduction to the first American Novelist
James Fenimore Cooper (JFC) was born in Cooperstown, New York—a town founded by his own father on the banks of Otsego Lake, which is now appropriately in a county that bears the same name. He knew much of the Iroquois nations and, from the little I’ve read of his work, held them in high respect, if not admiration.
He was prolific in his lifetime and wrote bestsellers, which set the standard for most of what we now consider the “great American novel”, which includes sea adventures, spy thrillers, wilderness adventures, and more.
If you’re an older millennial, like I am, you may remember a movie from the early 90s with Daniel-Day Lewis called The Last of the Mohicans. That movie, of course, was based on a James Fenimore Cooper novel written in 1826 by the same name and was the second published in a series of five novels about the adventures of Nathaniel (Natty) Bumppo in the American wilderness. The series is often called the Leatherstocking Tales.
Much like how The Lord of the Rings is really three separate novels.
Cooper could also arguably be called an early anti-colonial and environmentalist. The march of so-called “civilization” across the North American landscape destroying nature and driving out the Indigenous nations in its wake did not sit well with him. He saw that for all the so-called marks of “civilization,” the people who wielded its tools were arguably the real savages.
And he put it all in his books.
Writing what you love is still good advice.
The third [novel] has been written exclusively to please myself; so it would be no wonder if it displeased every body else; for what two ever thought alike, on a subject of the imagination!
The Pioneers was indeed the third of JFC’s novels. And it’s rumored to have sold three thousand copies within the first hours of its publication.
Now, why would that be?
Well, I think Cooper says it himself. He wrote not only what he knew intimately: his hometown near Otsego Lake, but he wrote what would please him. Not what would please a public that had, until then, ignored his literary efforts.
So, while saying “write what you love” sounds like tired-out writing advice, it doesn’t make it any less true for all that. You do have to love something about what you’re writing.
If it’s a novel, it may be the characters, the themes, the plot, or even the scenery. For Cooper it was his hometown and its history.
For processes, perhaps it’s a love of order or helping other people.
Find something about what you are writing which makes you happy. Because even if it’s a flop, like JFC’s first two novels, then at least you will have one person who is happy with the outcome: you.
This is the third of my novels, and it depends on two very uncertain contingencies, whether it will not be the last;–the one being the public opinion, and the other mine own humour.
Always give yourself options.
JFC’s quote here is about whether he will write more novels after The Pioneers. He says it will depend not only on how his third novel is received but on whether he wants to continue writing.
This means there’s a possibility that he would still write, even if his third novel wasn’t successful. That, I think, points to an optimism that most of us who write could probably use in our lives because it implies he gets enjoyment out of the writing process.
Not just from the writing profits. We all want whatever we write to make us piles of money, whether that’s a novel or a sales letter.
But he’s also clearly giving himself the option to quit if he chooses. If the public doesn’t like his third attempt at writing a novel, he’s giving himself permission to quit and move on to other projects.
So, when you are starting on your own writing project, whether that’s for your business, your next novel, or even for yourself, give yourself options. Allow yourself the freedom to continue to write even if other people don’t care for it but also give yourself permission to quit if it’s no longer serving you.
There I am, left like an ass between two locks of hay; so that I have determined to relinquish my animate nature, and remain stationary, like a lock of hay between two asses.
Critics are divided in their opinion, so focus on your own readership and your own preferences.
JFC refers to two different reviewers of his writing in his letter. They contradicted each other in their opinions of his previous novels. This, of course, is his meaning when he refers to the “two asses.” Pretty clever insult, isn’t it?
Have you ever noticed movies that critics hate are sometimes beloved of audiences? Well, the same holds true for literature, particularly in Cooper’s case. His work was popular in the United States, but never as popular as it was in Europe.
And we don’t necessarily have the names of his critics, do we?
So, if you write and you get contradictory feedback about your writing, you ultimately have to decide what you re going to do it about it.
And if it pleases your reader, and it pleases you, then who cares what the critics say?
Now, for business writing, you can’t always follow that rule, but you can at least consider whether that feedback will benefit your readers. If it will not, then you need to make your case for how you want it to be written.
But professional critics? Well, if they could do itbetter,r then they should write their own novels. You do you and find your audience.
Goodness only knows there’s enough variety in tastes and interests out there.
So, what are your writing goals this month? Are you attempting to write your novel now or are you focusing on smaller projects?
Let me know in the comments, I’d love to hear from you.
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Links to Images Used
All images taken from Flickr and were uploaded into Canva to create the graphic at the beginning of this post. All images are used under the Creative Commons license.
Picture of the Susquahanna River and Lake Otsego
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