[Originally published October 14, 2010.]
You’ve got the next Great American Novel inside of you, I know. The themes accost you daily in every moment of social interaction; the transparency of the world is wrenching; you can see the strings from which reality dangles in gifted moments of illumination; there is so much beauty in decay; the umbilical cord is severed, child abandons parent; the Voice speaks to itself, is at once issued and received; the novel will be a little bit meta, but willing to expound audience expectations of a well-trodden genre; there will be an alpaca; sandwiches eat sandwich artists; it will revolutionize literature and explode the industrial author complex.
But wait, don’t write the book yet. Write a book about post-acquisition integration strategy first.
Who am I to be giving advice? I’ve 25 years experience offering consulting services to companies that don’t know any better, who take my interlocking-circle diagrams gratefully and apply them to the bones of their value missions, constructing emphatic new strategic statements of intent. I’ve written 53 books on the topic (all self-published) and am currently working on the 54th.
You’ve probably met me before. We became isolated from the core of a barbecue assemblage once after making the decision to return to the cooler and dig, really dig, to see if another beer had been hidden under the ice and soda. It was a painful party. We got talking about what each of us “did.” I gave you some twaddle about my former career as a mid-level analyst and love of recumbent bicycles, and you, wearing your self-doubt like an emblem, mentioned that you were pursuing an MFA, amidst staffing a rainforest-friendly coffee shop. I then brightened, and announced that I, too, was a writer. You asked what I had written, and I told you that I had written 52 books on corporate strategy and leadership during my summers in Mexico, in a writer’s community near Oaxaca. I was at that time working on the 53rd. I asked you what you had written, and you mumbled something about some short experimental fiction and unpublished poetry and essay. I responded with a limerick.
Or we could have met at the Open University open day, where people like myself peddled classes for such intangibles as “the art of conversation” and “computer-aided pottery.” We were overwhelmingly in the presence of people in need of editors for their memoirs, their unanchored, unexamined lives crowding the hall for prominence—you shied away from the sign-up sheet for the “getting a literary agent” night course, fully convinced by now that bullshit of all shapes and sizes was being peddled to the public, and that you had the stench of bullshit on your breath.
You’ve a deft hand for character treatment; lines are sung and whispered, and never spoken; your plot-lines are open-ended and hopeful yet nihilistic; you pack volumes into a single line of dialogue, but allow settings to establish themselves through prolific descriptions of wallpaper, skirting boards and the color of air moving round the characters; you offer unique insight into calots; your imagery would be lauded by critics if anyone had actually sampled it, but you are incapable of finishing a novel. Whenever the novel begins to acquire a shape, you determine that it is too bulky a shape, and the metaphors too clunky, or not meaty enough, or with a funny smell. Each page written is a page between yourself and literary satisfaction; sandwiched together you lose all sight.
That is why you, my dear, need to write a book on the “tenets of post-gender management theory.” There you can practice your metaphoric allusions to man’s frontiers, to the hollowing of character, to the slow devouring of the land by the ocean and inland [moral!] salination. Simply tie them to organizational structure. Then you can structure your novel under chapter headings like “Breaking the Chain” and “Feeding the Feedback Loop.” Upon such modular shelves you can plonk thoughts like cereal boxes, pre-constructed kernels of composition, and thwack your bio on the back inside flap. Then, you will be. A writer.