Marge Simpson is known as the patient mother, dutiful housewife, and voice of morality in the Simpson family. But every now and then, she takes up a bold and daring project that rocks Springfield.
Case in point: her first novel, The Harpooned Heart. She started it on a whim, got it finished in record time, and quickly became the talk of the town. Here are some tips she used to spur herself to success (as well as some lessons she hopefully learned along the way).
1. Know that you can do it.
Marge walked into a Bookaccino’s bookstore to get a muffin. But once inside, she found out that Esme Delacroix, author of the novel To Kiss a Scoundrel was there. Marge asked Esme if she had any special training to become a writer.
Esme said that she just took a class at “the Y” (Yale University), but anyone with passion can write. Hearing this, Marge realized that she too could become a novelist. She had only one more question: ”If I write a book, will they tell me when it comes out?”
2. Enlist the support of your family.
Writing a novel is going to impact your family, so you need them to be on board with you.
On what Marge wanted to be her first night of novel writing, she was hoping that her husband Homer would watch the kids. But Homer informed Marge that he had just started a new job as an ambulance driver, with his first shift being that night.
A little more communication both ways would have been helpful in letting everyone pursue their goals.
3. Get inspiration from anywhere.
While pondering what to write about, Marge noticed a painting of a sailboat that had always sparked her imagination. As she looked at it, her imagination morphed the sailboat into a whaling vessel. Then she shouted, “That’s it! A novel about whaling! That’s something you haven’t seen before.”
4. Be aware of what’s already been done.
It turns out that there was already a kinda famous novel about whaling. When Marge read the title of the painting that inspired her, she said “Thank you, ‘Scene From Moby-Dick.’”
That doesn’t necessarily mean that her book would be accused of plagiarism, but it would be nice to know what’s already out there. However, it’s hard to know about everything. In high school English class, I wrote a short story that the teacher said was “Very Grapes of Wrathy, don’t you think?” But I had never read The Grapes of Wrath, and had no idea what it was about.
5. Don’t be a perfectionist.
If you try to write the perfect novel on your first try, the likely result is that you’ll never finish. Instead, try the NaNoWriMo approach, which advocates getting a rough draft done quickly, then revising only when the draft is done.
Marge sat down at her computer and wrote this:
“Chapter 1: Starts and Beginnings
Swim, swim, swim, thought the whale, flopping his floppers.”
It’s not exactly great literature, but the time to revise it is after the draft is done, not constantly.
6. Be careful about taking too many brownie breaks.
Immediately after writing her first sentence, Marge ran into the kitchen for a “brownie break.” While it’s important to take breaks as needed, your breaks will be more effective and better deserved if you take them as a reward for getting more than one sentence done. And eating too many brownies poses nutritional problems.
7. Watch out for procrastination.
This is related to the previous point, but more subtle. While it will be obvious when you’re eating too many brownies, it’s less obvious when you’re doing work that seems productive but isn’t really.
Having barely started, Marge stopped to write her acknowledgements page. After thanking “…Mayor Quimby, Disco Stu, and our fighting men and women overseas,” she returned to the novel.
She then wrote one sentence: “Temperance Barrows stared at the sea, like a dog stares at a ham.” Realizing that she had just finished her first paragraph, she decided it was time to run spell check.
These are things that need to be done, but don’t forget that almost all of your focus needs to be on actually getting the novel written.
8. Write about what you know.
Marge based her characters on people she knew, which made it easier to give them consistent personalities. She was also knowledgeable about her novel’s setting, which made it easier to create realistic surroundings.
Everyone brings their own experiences to the table, so try to get some use out of them.
9. Be careful about writing a real person into your novel.
It’s one thing to base a character on someone you know, perhaps borrowing their looks, occupation, or personality to inject some believable positive qualities into a character. It’s another thing to make the character so similar that the person feels like they’ve been put in the spotlight.
Controversy erupts when Marge created a character based on Homer’s bad side, revealing his flaws to the world. Fortunately, Lisa advised her to show it to Homer before publishing it. Unfortunately, Homer said he was OK, but hadn’t actually read it. It’s best to let your fiction be fictional.
10. Don’t make your characters too perfect.
While Marge shouldn’t have done that to Homer, it did have the beneficial side effect of adding some character flaws. When Temperance’s husband was perfect, there was no conflict, nothing to keep the reader interested. But when he became a jerk, things became interesting. (Especially when the character based on Ned Flanders became a potential love interest – see the previous point.)
11. Create an idea file.
After seeing the conflict arising from the deeply flawed husband, Marge says, ”This story is as dark as those new Milky Way bars. Ooh, that’s a good analogy. I’ll work it in somewhere.” She then writes this down for later, and continues writing.
Lots of ideas will come to mind when you’re writing. If you always stop to see how you can work them in, that will suck up a lot of time. But if you write them down in your idea file, you can keep going, knowing they won’t be forgotten. When you’re done with your draft, you might see that they’re no longer needed, or you might know the perfect place to use them.
12. Be prepared for criticism.
You may have fans. You’ll definitely have critics. The best review Marge got was Homer’s less than enthusiastic testimonial: ”The end of your book was the wake-up call I needed after falling asleep at the beginning of your book.” But she handled it just fine, and will hopefully use the criticism to improve.
13. You don’t ever have to stop writing.
If you like writing one novel, there’s no reason you have to stop there. As soon as Marge was done promoting her first book, she jumped right into the sequel, The Harpooned Heart II: Thunder Down Under. She started with “Temperance Barrows stared at the shrimp on the barbie…” Who knows where her imagination will take her this time?
Photo by dannysullivan