confessions / fiction / first-drafting / novels / writing

Every Novel Is Its Own Distinct and Distinctly Flawed Animal

Actually, this novel might be a jellyfish. It’s slippery, gelatinous in shape, and it stings.

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.

8 thoughts on “Every Novel Is Its Own Distinct and Distinctly Flawed Animal

  1. Well, at least I have far warning that it never gets any easier. I suppose it’s a lot like running track (which I do) My first day a girl said “It never gets easier but it gets better”. I thought she was crazy. I was thinking “what’s the difference?” Now I get it.

    The actual process, and pain of running never changes, you just get use to it. You just realize that it is what it is, and understand that you can get through it. I suppose writing is a lot like that.

    Lovely post!

  2. Dear Mrs. Nova,

    For my own part, I am sorry you are spending Labour Day Weekend working. That said, I hear loudly in what you say that you don’t just want to tack on a rip-off ending. Your agony shows that you want this literary creation to have a unique life and that you care that you as a writer are doing justice to characters, your readers and to your name. My respect for you grows.

    The man, Douglas Adams, of whom I wrote before, said Writers Block is when you set down at the typewriter (Or ‘puter now) and you stare at the page until your forehead bleeds.. But write he did, and well, and very entertainingly. I thank God he was here and wrote such odd things.

    You are writing entertainingly, too. The effort seems enormous, but, like with birth, the pain will soon be forgotten.

    Bless you in your chosen craft. Don’t give up 5 minutes before your greatest inspiration hits. (But do take a break here and there so it can. Away from the screen. Perhaps in a park breathing air that will too soon be cold and snowy)

    I do love authors, Asimov, Bradbury, Heinlein, Adams, and many others. They have entertained me endlessly. For those who read you, I promise you do, too.



  3. My current novel started out a real b*tch – say, Lindsay Lohan on a bender. And then, it suddenly morphed into Andy Dick urinating in the corner of an S & M bar while the paparazzi snapped pictures. Just a Hot Mess. I write every novel the same way – one word at a time – but I feel like each one has its own personal hell it puts you through. I don’t know if I learn from that hell or if its just my own form of self-harm. Either way, I feel like I need therapy now.

  4. The thing I loved about reading IG after reading DN was how they were totally different. Some writers you can predict whats going to happen having read something else by them. You couldn’t tell they were by the same writer. The styles and everything were different. Each book was a totally different lifeforms and I admire you for the hard work you put into your books making each one different. I loved both of them because both were great. Like I mentioned in my review of IG you could tell how much hard work went into writing that story. A great read and I can not wait to read your next book.

  5. I had lunch with my (former) editor on Friday and we were laughing when I said “wouldn’t it be great if your last novel could write the next one for you?” At this point it looks like it’s never going to get any easier, but in my saner moments I see that’s a good thing.

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