If I Were Writing the Great American Novel

Abstract photograph of an American flag waving in the breeze very closeup. High contrast black and white. Stars and stripes v
Abstract photograph of an American flag waving in the breeze very closeup. High contrast black and white. Stars and stripes visible. No people in photograph. Room for your content message at top of image. Horizontal composition.

If I were writing the Great American Novel, I would be white.

If I were writing the Great American Novel, I would be 10-20 years older.

If I were writing the Great American Novel, I would not look at the Wikipedia page for the Great American Novel daily, as if it held some sort of great and terrible secret that would tell me exactly what to write and how to write it.

If I were writing the Great American Novel, I would not be writing a genre novel. I would have to call it "literary fiction," whatever that means.

If I were writing the Great American Novel, I would never be enrolled in an MFA for creative writing. Instead, I would leave academia and live in interesting places, do interesting things, meet interesting people, and then write about it in a cramped, sunless, library, and not the other way around.

If I were writing the Great American Novel, I would have dropped everything and left home with nothing but $100 in my pocket to look for a thing that calls itself America.

If I were writing the Great American Novel, I would somehow find a way to make my experiences as a Vietnamese-American applicable and relatable to every American that ever existed, exists, and will exist.

Somehow.

If I were writing the Great American Novel, I would not be Asian-American.

If I were writing the Great American Novel, I would never call myself the voice of my generation (though deep down inside, I would totally feel that way).

If I were writing the Great American Novel, I would not have the misguided audacity to think that a single novel could somehow contain the breadth and scope of every single experience of every single American.

If I were writing the Great American Novel, I would know that "The Great American Novel" is an arbitrary, vapid, propagandistic title that is so debated and controversial that it may as well be meaningless.

If I were writing the Great American Novel, I would know that to write "the Great American Novel" is a pointless goal to strive for.

If I were writing the Great American Novel, I would know that "the Great American Novel" probably doesn't even exist.

If I were writing the Great American Novel, I would never set out with the deliberate intention of writing the Great American Novel.

If I were writing the Great American Novel, I wouldn't tell anyone I was writing "The Great American Novel." I wouldn't tell anyone I was writing any novel to begin with.

If I were writing the Great American Novel, I would have already distinguished myself as a well-known author by having written maybe 5-10 novels already.

If I were writing the Great American Novel, I would not be so frustrated that I don't have the skill to write the Great American Novel.

If I were writing the Great American Novel, I would be experimental yet traditional, cutting-edge yet historical, progressive yet radical.

If I were writing the Great American Novel, I would not be derivative or reactionary or unoriginal, despite having more than 200 years of literary tradition to drawn from.

If I were writing the Great American Novel, my process, my background, and my methods would be scrutinized, analyzed, canonized, meticulously documented, retold, and carefully studied for years to come.

If I were writing the Great American Novel, I would have a claim to immortality.

If I were writing the Great American Novel, I wouldn't be so obsessed with writing it.

If I were writing the Great American Novel, I wouldn't be.