I read this on the bus this morning. I was supposed to be reading Harry Potter 2 (The Chamber of Secrets) as per a roommate Harry Potter reading challenge, but I had also brought along this book, On Becoming a Novelist. It’s my third time reading it. I’ve started developing a habit where I keep it next to me when I’m writing. I thought that maybe instead of looking at Facebook I could look at a book called On Becoming a Novelist.
“If the promising writer keeps on writing – writes day after day, month after month – and if he reads very carefully, he will begin to “catch on.” Catching on is important in the arts, as in athletics. Practical sciences, including the verbal engineering of commercial fiction, can be taught and learned. The arts too can be taught, up to a point; but except for certain matters of technique, one does not learn the arts, one simply catches on.”
So this explains it: I’ve lately begun to feel that I’m catching on. The feeling came from writing every day for one hour. And one full hour! I could fold laundry or eat a snack in that hour if the temptation so struck me, but I would keep my mind immersed in my novel for that hour. Then Monday came along and I broke tradition. I wrote for forty-five minutes. On Tuesday I broke the hour into two halves. And I have since lost the feeling of catching on, and instead I’m catching up.
It’s weird that I’m writing a novel! What better, more regular things I could be doing with my time than trying to remember a secret world I have created and am trying to express to you through poorly turned phrases. And then I go back and I try to make the phrases turn nicer. And why should you even care, I made up this world! It is of no interest to anybody, including me. I have to force myself to live in the world for an hour a day, and still I fold laundry and I eat snacks! Shouldn’t I be spellbound by this magical world I have created?
I wonder how JK Rowling did it – I mean how she really did it. Yes, she thought up the story on a train, and yes, she planned the whole series of books out before beginning the first, but really: how could she have done it? How could Snape’s character and story line be so complete from the first book? How could clues and minor characters be introduced so early and then play such a large role later on? How the heck did she think up the Voldemort-Harry thing? Most importantly, how did she possibly invent things like a whomping willow or howlers? Did she not have Facebook? Did she write for more than an hour a day?
There was a time last Spring where I stood at my dad’s drafting desk with this repetitive playlist on and papers spread everywhere. And I loved it! I worked for four hours at a time.
I think I forget about what it is to catch on when I feel like I’m catching up. It’s like love: how could that possibly be a thing? It’s like childbirth; it’s like the Grouse Grind. You don’t remember how bad or good something is when it’s a completely immersive experience. It completely owns you and you are in it. I need to go write a novel!