What it’s like to write a novelPosted: February 4, 2013
Writing a novel is often compared to birthing a baby. A new thing begins its life growing it inside you, then you bring it out into the world on a specific day. And hopefully, everyone will coo about how wonderful it is.
I’ve also heard the editing and revision process compared to cleaning up after a baby: it’s messy but necessary. The problem with the baby analogy, though, it that it suggests a novel is one untouchable unit that must be loved unconditionally. No one would surgically fiddle with a baby’s face to make it more appealing (other than the creepiest of pageant moms). And saying that a novel’s plot has flaws is not the same as insulting someone’s small child. Most importantly, it’s usually a bad sign when a writer is so attached to their novel that they see it as their perfect, special baby. Novels need to be viewed as pieces of subjective work, amalgams of words that can be rearranged for the better. This is especially true in the ebook era, when it’s possible — and fairly simple, actually — to go through a published book and fix errors.
So if I don’t think writing a book is like having a baby, what is it like? Uhh. Hmm. It’s like … sitting at a desk on hundreds of separate occasions, putting one word after another until you’re satisfied with the whole bulk of it. That’s not a metaphor, but it is true. Writing long-form fiction is a lot of work and it often feels as such. Except for those rare few people who hammer out a novel in a few passionate sittings; their experience is as rare as a lightning strike.
Right, back to the metaphors. Well, I write in a relatively organic way. I begin with a basic idea and some characters, but I let the story flow as it’s going to. I often feel like the story is water — some naturally occurring entity — and I’m the household plumbing that directs it and lets it flow. Sometimes the first showing is cloudy or the wrong temperature, so I keep letting words pour out until I get some writing I’m satisfied with.
But sometimes the writing process is more frustrating than that. I’ll stare at my open Scrivener file for hours, finally get into it and start composing sentences, and then have to leave for work ten minutes later. Those times, I find writing more like I’m a reptile shedding its skin. I start out with an idea of how this’ll progress, and I know the end is worthwhile. But the actual happening takes longer than I thought. I’m indescribably itchy while I wait for my process to unfold; I’m blind and agitated. Maybe I need to wait and think deeply about the story? Maybe I need to just grab a loose edge and yank? I’m never sure. This metaphor is usually how I feel when a novel is more than half completed, and its details and logistics are giving me trouble.
Writing a book is a very individual process, so I’m sure there are thousands of possible analogies. They all fit to some degree. They can touch on the complex emotions a writer experiences while trying to express a book’s worth of thoughts. At least we’re getting some mental exercise!
Got an analogy for what the writing process is like? Whether you’re a writer or not? Share in the comments!
- Writing is hard, so do it (kyan.com)
- Torturing a favourite character (heidicvlach.wordpress.com)
- Light and dark magic: how I used the concept in the Aligare world (heidicvlach.wordpress.com)