Friday, January 4, 2013

On Telling People You're Writing a Novel

It's an odd, conflicted thing, this telling of people that you're writing a novel.

On one hand, it's something you must do (if you're me, at least): I need public accountability. I occasionally need people to think with me through a rough patch. I need a cheering section. Thus using this blog to think "out loud": I need a way to process through all the thoughts I have about writing a massive project anyway, so why not use the blog to do that for all of the above reasons?

But on the other hand, telling people you're writing a novel (at least in person) brings forth a wide variety of responses.

Some people say, "Let me know when it's on the shelf--I'll buy a copy." (Which provokes an internal wince, since you've worked in publishing, even though you have an inkling that this is a fairly marketable idea this time.)

Others say, "Oh yes, you've done something like that before, haven't you?" (Another internal wince, since it seems to imply that the last one didn't go anywhere, but then you remember that most good authors have several novels in a drawer and you brace yourself from the potentially implied criticism.)

And then there's the most useful responses: "Oh, that's so fun. I hope you'll let me read it!"--which inspires a mental note to further explore how much they mean it.

Ultimately, the usefulness of the response has less to do with the words spoken, though, than with the non-verbals that come with it. Smiling, cheeriness, expressions of open faces pledging confidence in your abilities vie with those who have pursed lips and narrowed eyes expressing doubt.

The latter wouldn't affect me so much if I didn't have my own internalized critics of the seemingly grandiose idea of writing a novel to agree with them. After all, I worked in publishing and have been in the game. I know many many people want to be an author of novels and with the state of publishing, many excellently-written stories never make it to print. I know others have inflated senses of their own writing ability and will never make it to print, having written, to echo Lady Bracknell in Wilde's "The Importance of Being Earnest," "a three-volume novel of more than usually revolting sentimentality" or something else that isn't that bad at all but simply isn't quite there yet.

Sometimes my having been "on the other side of the page" can be a hindrance, that way.

And then there's the connotations of the word novel itself. "Writing a dissertation," for instance, was something that sounded a bit grandiose and unachievable to some, but then there was the proof that you were enrolled in a program that helped you along (and some of them knew that previously you'd completed your novel in a drawer, so they were sure you'd finish it). But "writing a novel," yup, that evokes images, for readers, of our favorite novelists, whether literary or popular, and encourages comparisons between whether you'll be able to make it to that level. It helps a bit, for legitimacy, to say you've enrolled in a fiction-writing seminar, but even then, they're not sure.

Ah, the neuroses of the writer! One must constantly fight these narratives with the broader truth: that one's earlier novel manuscript was a good warm-up act that was a lot of fun to write, and it's okay to leave it in a drawer. That one's been researching this particular new DNiP* for a long time and finally needs to take advantage of the time to write it, as life changes quickly and one never knows when one will have another opportunity for a long time. That yes, this particular idea has a good chunk of marketability to it, and one's academic strengths in research methods and in writing persistence and stamina in other genres, as well as research into how communication and storytelling work, will help one, along with one's lifelong love of reading and the enrollment in a fiction-writing class.

Besides, it's a lot of fun to write a novel, most of the time. One gets to create. And practice empathy for one's characters, which in turn helps one practice empathy for other people. So while one feels one has a chance of actually completing it this spring/summer and thence getting it onto the market (cue New Year's resolution), even if that didn't happen, one would still use this precious time to work on this project and drive toward those goals, because one is able to and finds it a worthwhile thing to do.

One just tells people (and updates this blog) to give oneself accountability to others to increase the likelihood of meeting the deadline.

So please keep cheering away on the sidelines, faithful friends who don't mind hearing about my efforts! Thanks for your support!

*DNiP=Dear Novel in Progress

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