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The Great American Novel

Posted by CreateSpaceBlogger on Oct 5, 2011 7:57:32 AM

What is the Great American Novel? And, more importantly, should a writer in this country set out to write the next one? The first question is relatively easy to answer. The Great American Novel is a well-written book that encapsulates the culture and spirit of any given time in America. The writer who writes such a novel will, no doubt, find immortality.

Most writers have a competitive spirit. However, they aren't necessarily in competition with other writers - they're usually in competition with themselves. They have a burning desire to top themselves. Very few writers start writing a book with the dream of making it as good as the last one they wrote. Instead, each book has to be better than last. And that's all well and good?healthy, even.

However, I don't believe writers should be in competition with history. That is to say, a writer is likely to fail if they set out to write the Great American Novel. The writing becomes an external endeavor at that point, meaning the writer who sets out to write the Great American Novel is setting out to please and astonish the reader when he or she should be serving the story. A writer's first priority should always be to satisfy that fictional internal world he or she is creating. 

If you want to write the Great American Novel, your best strategy is to not try to write the Great American Novel. Write your story. Infuse the plot and characters with your perspective. Pull back the curtains and write honestly. This article in The Daily Beast by Malcolm Jones illustrates what happens to writers who try to write the Great American Novel: Is the Great American Novel Destroying Novelists?

I'd love to hear which book you consider to be the Great American Novel. For me, it's No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy. Share your opinions in the comments section!

-Richard Contributors/RidleyHeadshot_blog.jpg

Richard Ridley is an award-winning author and paid CreateSpace contributor.

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Oct 21, 2014 1:48 AM mbrabbitt    says:

Many of the greatest Great American Novel authors died before they were discovered in the first place.

Dec 22, 2016 2:20 PM ProseFreak    says:

Funny you should mention this. I'm guilty as charged. I tried writing the great American novel and came up a little short to say the least.


You're so right, Richard. One must write from the heart without pretense or conscious effort. Just let it flow, like Jack Kerouac.


And Cormac McCarthy, another favorite who most writers can't even touch, along with Norman Mailer and Flanery O'Connor and yes, I can't leave out Toni Morrison and G.G. Marquez.


Great reading, folks. They're among the best.