Writing a novel is difficult. Many writers hope to learn from the methods of successful authors, much as we all search for the secret of life. In both cases, the answer is different for everyone and we have to find our own ways.

This has not kept me from reading writers’ advice. Newspaper columnist Red Smith had a self-dramatizing description: “Simply sit down at the typewriter, open your veins, and bleed.” And although Ernest Hemingway is famous for pompous pronouncements (“All you have to do is write one true sentence.”) he more crudely and accurately wrote a very true sentence: “The first draft of anything is sh*t.” E. L. Doctorow, in a Paris Review interview, had a perfect description: “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”

The advice of two contemporary women writers resonates for me. Judith Viorst says to “Write. Write every day. Don’t wait to be in the mood.” Claire Cook, author of thirteen popular books, including Must Love Dogs, writes two pages every day, seven days a week. She warms up by editing the previous day’s two pages, then writes two more. Ben Popik, our eldest son, cheered me by suggesting that I write at least one sentence on days when I have no inspiration. The point is to keep the novel alive and in my thoughts.

My current method is to write one page a day. If I can write two, that’s a good day. The interesting aspect of splatting it all out on a page is that, reread later, there is often logic to the jumble. It’s kind of like having a conversation that doesn’t quite track. Sentence by sentence it’s disconnected, but taken as a whole, it’s all there–even more than intended–and simply needs to be rearranged and amplified.

And that’s the truest sentence I can write.



About Alexis

Alexis Rankin Popik, author of Kiss Me Over the Garden Gate, is an award-winning short story writer whose work has appeared in The Berkshire Review and Potpourri Magazine. She has penned numerous articles about local history that have been published in Connecticut Explored and the University of Connecticut School of Law and The Hartford Seminary publications. A former union organizer, Popik traveled the country educating shipyard workers about health and safety and founded a labor-management health plan before turning to writing fiction full-time. She lives with her husband in New England.
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