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What Does It Take to Write a Masterwork?

Updated: Dec 8, 2023

I've been working on my first novel for about ten years, give or take. People I've shown it to seem to like my novel, an examination of the music industry in general, and orchestras in particular, but some noticed and commented that it didn't have a core reason for existing, other than to inform people about the music industry. One person even asked, "Why should I care about [main character]?" Essentially, my book is what I've learned is called an "info dump", and that name in and of itself explained to me why I was struggling.

I mistakenly thought the subject matter itself was so interesting, that the books would fly off the shelves. This is what a lot of first time writers believe, which is why (in my opinion) there's so much pap out there today. Everyone thinks they're a writer, and can self-publish on sites like Amazon relatively simply.

Just about anyone can write, since most of us learned that skill early on, and that's a problem when it comes to taking it seriously. As a trained musician, I at least have that as a model; a lot of people can play the violin, but relatively few do it well enough to make a living at it. A tinier percentage can actually touch hearts and make a difference in someone's life. Same goes for writing.

How did people like Charlotte Bronte come up with such wonderful, timeless stories like "Jane Eyre" way back in the nineteenth century, stories that still resonate today? Well, for one thing, they had editors, people who already knew how story-telling works. There were probably dozens of re-writes before the book was actually published.

Here are some issues I see with today's marketplace. Many writers, thinking they have a great story, skip the editing part of the equation, or think they know how to edit their work. Book agents are under tremendous pressure to get books out there in the marketplace. And it's also a problem that there is pressure to get a best seller on the New York Times list. Money, money, money.

People aren't necessarily trying to write a masterpiece that will still resonate in a hundred years, they simply want to get their voice heard and their book sold. And that's okay, as long as they and you know it's like consuming fast food - you get filled up quickly, but where's the nourishment?

So I've taken a breather from my novel, and decided I needed more insight. I stumbled upon an online course called Story Grid, and have been taking those courses for the past two years. I put down my novel, and focused on learning the skills I would need to finish it to my own satisfaction. This means it must be a great story and a great teacher, because there is no reason for me to spend my time writing it if it doesn't at least conform to those two goals.

While I was taking this breather and studying my Story Grid course work, my children's book "Giselle and the Little Idea" downloaded itself onto my page. I don't know where it came from; I simply took dictation. But the ideas put forth by my classes must have been nudging their way into my subconscious, because it had all the elements that Story Grid teaches distilled into twenty-four child's book pages.

While I've been studying, I've also despaired that I'll never get there, that time will slip through my fingers and my novel will never see the light of day. I've had to push those feelings aside to keep going. As I'm sure you know, there are a lot of distractions out there. To accomplish anything big, concentration and a certain amount of sacrifice is necessary. There are never any "came out of nowhere" overnight sensations. There is always a day-by-day, inch-by-inch movement toward the goal.

There is nothing better than a great symphony, a profound piece of artwork, or a life-changing story. I guess I should get back to work.

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So true! People often don't realize all the study-learning the basics-that goes into producing any kind of art. "Oh, any child could have painted that Picasso!" So I applaud you for taking a breather and going back to studying. You are also right that a good editor can make or break you! The same things apply to my now decade-old pursuit of painting. I've had to practice and practice and paint a lot of duds. I need to see and study other painters' works. I need to ask for and take advice. I need to paint and paint and paint. I've also struggled with the idea that my paintings may not have a reason for existing. They certainly don't bring…

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