Why Write Novels?

Looking for a perfect way to attract the twin demons of self-doubt and futility? Tired of pursuits that don’t shutdown conversation or bring looks of concern and confusion to the faces of coworkers? Are you dissatisfied with the outdoors and human interaction in general? Do you have contempt for the very notion of free time? Have you always wanted a difficult and demanding side job with very little likelihood of any form of external benefit, financial or otherwise? Interested in a formalized cultivation of the maddening feeling that you don’t have the skill to adequately express your ideas through language?

If so, you should write a novel!

I’m kidding (sort of). If you’re anything like me, your interest in writing a novel comes from a sincere belief in the power of the form. I’ve lost myself in novels. I’ve been changed by novels. My life has been improved by novels in countless ways. Couple those facts with my lifelong fascination with the infuriating and profoundly satisfying craft of writing fiction and the compulsion to write novels isn’t something easily resisted.

That said, I am often perplexed by the way in which non-writers talk to me about writing. I frequently encounter the confounding idea that I write purely for fun or for some sort of catharsis. My writing will come up in conversation and someone will make a comment along the lines of, “Oh, you write? That sounds fun. I bet that’s a great way to work out stress.”

“No. No, it isn’t. It’s a huge pain in the ass and I just can’t stop doing it. Seriously, I can’t stop. Can you help me? Why aren’t you helping me! WHERE ARE YOU GOING?”

Okay, that’s not usually how I reply, but it’s usually what I’m thinking. Sure, writing is fun, in a way, but it is also work. Hard work. And I haven’t really found a way to convincingly express the fact that the middle grade novel about magical fairies and suburban witches I just completed took significantly more effort than practically all of the projects I completed last year for my day job. You know, the projects for which I am actually paid real earth-money. That premise sounds ridiculous, but it’s also true.

Writing is taxing and even painful at times. If I expect to actually finish a novel I’ve started (and I haven’t given up on a novel yet), I need to employ some form of strict self-accountability and that means I have to produce even on the days when I might not feel like writing and I might not be dripping with inspiration or a tingly, crunchy, creative vibe. That’s not catharsis and it’s not something I do to unwind.

Art is hard. Writing is hard. I would also argue that it’s worthwhile. I just get squirmy when somebody refers to writing as my hobby or talks about it like it’s a simple pastime. It feels a lot more like a second job to me. I certainly think of it as a career and I endeavor to approach it with that level of seriousness.

Okay, so it’s hard. So what? I say, we should do it anyway. Screw self-doubt and who cares what your coworkers think. Write that novel. Reach that daily word count. Worst case scenario, you end up leaving behind a big box of unpublished novels. I’d argue that’s still way better than leaving behind a big empty box of all the things you meant to write.

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