Writing a novel once—or twice, or four times if you count the adult novels I never published, or eight times if you count the work-for-hire novels written under fake names—does not necessarily mean you understand how to write a novel.
Writing workshops didn’t prepare me for writing novels. (Mostly we focused on short stories.)
Reading novels didn’t prepare me for writing novels. (A good novel should feel effortless. When I read a good novel I’m swept away and I’m not sitting there thinking of the mechanics the author used to put it together. When I read a bad novel, I usually put it down before finishing and try to forget it.)
Proofreading and carrying stacks of galley pages up and down the stairs to editors’ offices didn’t prepare me for writing novels. (Working in publishing showed me the behind-the-scenes view of what goes into making a book, but it didn’t show me how to write one.)
I think this is because writing a novel is so personal. To who you are as a writer—and to what the novel is as a novel.
The novel I’m writing now is giving me a hard time. I have 78,712 words as I pause to whine and spit out this blog post, I need to finish the book in mere days and I can’t seem to find a way to get it to a solid end, and the truth is, I’m afraid I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing.
At the low points I start to question if I should be a novelist at all. Shouldn’t this be easier by now? Was it a mistake to give up photography after college? Would I have been better at that?
I thought I’d have learned something about writing novels by this point, by Book #3 or Book #5 or Book #9, however you do the math, but all I’ve learned is that each novel wants to be written in its own way. It has its own flaws, and its own sweet spots. It sings to me in a different tune than all the others that came before. And it pains me in new places, in organs I didn’t even know I had.
Actually, this could be a good thing. I don’t want to write the same books I wrote before. I want to write something that challenges me. Something that scares me. Something new. That’s why I’m not writing Imaginary Girls #2.
Guess I’m on track then. Back to the gooey, unwieldy jellyfish that’s smothering me this holiday weekend.