Just checking in to say

things are chaotic. Or should I say, more chaotic than usual. So forgive me, I’ll try to post something more substantive later today or tomorrow.

In the meantime, a question that maybe you can answer for me. Why does everybody want to write a novel? So, okay, maybe it’s not everybody. But it seems that way sometimes. Taxi drivers, surgeons, carpenters, post office clerks, teachers, fourteen year old cheerleaders.

I’m not saying that it will never happen. It’s certainly possible that the next wonderful book I come across will have been written by a plumber. The question is, what is the drive here? We are disposed by our social natures toward storytelling, but why novels? What’s the attraction? I can see why some people want to act in movies — if it goes well, fame and fortune. But that can’t be it for those who dream about writing novels. So what is it that is so appealing?

UPDATE/NOTE/CLARIFICATION: I will say again that to any of you working on your first novel, I wish the very best of luck. Sincerely, and with all good will. I’m not questioning that you write, but I am curious what drives people to write a novel. I know why I started writing fiction, but what about you?

18 Replies to “Just checking in to say”

  1. I think it has to do with the feeling of power one gets from being able to invoke feelings from the readers.
    Everyone (yes I’m generalizing), secretly or not, has a “if only they knew how I felt” complex, writing a novel allows this to happen in a way movies cannot. Movies become dated easily, but books allow the reader’s imagination to change with each reading. Thus the emotion an author feels over any given action is shared without having to be translated through an actor and in an extremely personal method.
    Everyone (generalization again…) feels important enough that their story should be shared. Everyone has been touched by a novel and wants to have that power over someone else.
    I think the popularity of wanting to write a novel also comes from the fact it seems like it should be an easily accomplished feat. It should be simple to write enough words to fill a novel, where money, looks, and location are not a factor in the actual writing process.

  2. I don’t know, really. For me I have always written and come from a long line of amateur writers. I prefer short stories and poetry but I did attempt a novel. It has been sitting on my desk for the last 9 years, but periodically I pick it back up play around with it.

  3. I agree Soup Fick that it is something that everyone wants to do because it must be easier than becoming a movie star. To be in a movie, you have to be beautiful, move to Hollywood, etc., but gee, all you have to do to write a novel is sit down and make something up. Much easier, right?
    Also, I think writers have more of a mystique about them- movie stars can be seen as stupid while writers can be seen as intelligent. And writers can be more independent, writing on their own schedule, which I think is a huge part of the appeal of making your living as a novelist. (Or at least it is to me, when I am at work and all stressed out over deadlines).

    I would be curious to hear the story that prompted this post.

  4. Are you saying I should resign myself to my mind-numbing soul-sucking paper-pushing number-crunching day job?

    I should get a St-Jude medallion, I’m suddenly feeling very much like a lost cause ;)

    Actually I’m curious about the question, who would -not- want to be a writer?

  5. I write because I have to. Things nag at me – places or thoughts or characters – till my skin is almost crawling with it. I write it down, invariably in little blurts, a collection of scratchy paragraphs or a poem of some kind, and the itch goes away. It’s release. For me, the appeal of writing the novel is in the amount of discipline required to complete it – to force method into the haphazard direction my writing can otherwise take.

  6. I wish I knew. It almost feels like the great white whale or a mountain. Something that has to be acheived or die in the process. I didn’t realise it would be so hard, but I’m determined to get through it. Sounds like a disease doesn’t it?

  7. Kenzie, as to your question of who would NOT want to be a writer, that would be me. I have no talent for writing; my talents are in other areas. But I am still fascinated by the behind the scenes process.

  8. now, see, me, i like writing, and i’m pretty good at it. however, i do NOTTTTTT have the patience to write a novel! i mean, i have enough trouble writing a ten-page paper for english class (tho 3 is not a problem), how would i EVER fill up 300? and then you have to do all the research into what they wear and eat and how they talk and you have to keep all the characters straight and….i would write like a chapter and then put it down in favor of reading a book.
    i also fear that if i tried to write a book, it would come out sounding too much like another authoe–not plagary, but just the same style or soemthing.
    so i’m content to read. and read. and read. and leave all the hard work to the authors whom i love so very much.

  9. Well, I write novels because I’m really not into short stories. And my poetry is meh.

    I also keep thinking about writing a book of creative nonfiction stories, but I only work on that once in awhile.

  10. I’m with Meredith — I write because I can’t not write.

    I started my first novel about a talking dog when I was 10 (embarrassingly enough, the dog’s name was a twist on a publisher’s name — read much?).

    When I was 13, my dad sat me down and gave me the Hemingway talk — you can’t write because you have no grand experience and therefore nothing to say — so the writing went underground for a long time.

    Now it’s back. I may never be published (but I am determined to finish and be proud of what I’ve done).

    Personally, I don’t want to be famous; I am really introverted, and I don’t think I’d handle it well.

    But I do like inhabiting various characters’ heads.

    I think there is a human impulse to tell stories that comes from making sense of everyday life. We tell ourselves stories all the time, so why not tell them to others too?

  11. Let’s take a stab at this again shall we? I write because I’m full of stories, chock full of ’em, overflowing with entertaining lies I have this burning need to put to paper. As for writing novels, at this time they’re simply the best medium to get my message across…

    I think poems should have a greater impact in fewer words than prose, in my opinion poetry doesn’t lend well to long narratives. People work on novels because they want to tell stories, they want to give readers a plot to follow. Of course I could theoretically write a long epic poem with lots of plot threads to follow like the Illiad but who would want to read it? Brevity is the name of the game when it comes to modern poetry; anything longer than the Raven and attention starts to wander…

    I’ve been trying my hand at novels because I cannot condense my ideas/plots into any of the other forms. I thought of writing a series of short stories with the same basic group of characters but think the form will give me problems. My worry is that if each story/chapter is read alone they will not stand up on their own and I do not want to have to introduce the world and characters over again in each story. I’m sure there’s a simple clever solution to this but I’ve not figured it out just yet…

  12. I find writing to be a creative, expressive and cathartic experience. I have more fun working on a scene than I do at a party. Writing is therapeutic for me and a lot less costly than a psychiatrist! (grin)

    My sister and I write and share our pages and processes. We have spent many hours laughing over the blunders and be awed by each others’ brilliance.

    Creating characters that we care about and have them endure intense transformations is a total blast. How can the appeal of total power be denied? LOL

    I enjoyed the other posts. I’m new to the site, but hope to be back regularly.

  13. I picture “write a novel” on many peoples’ lists of “things to do before I die.” My theory is it’s easy to imagine writing a novel, as others have noted, component-wise, as a vocation, to some it just seems like ‘sit and write.’ Now, “climb a mountain” may also be on many peoples’ life-lists – but they’re not imagining buying all the equipment for rock-climbing so that they can train themselves up for the type of endurance event that climbing an actual mountain would be. To me, it’s just a castle in the air that I take out easily and remodel from time to time. I’m glad you asked this question, because sometimes in my disappointment that I haven’t sat down to write a novel yet, I forget that there are other species to write, many steps to take, if I really wanted to write something. It also reminded me that the writing I do at work is stuff, practice, just not a novel. And stories I find on blogs like yours remind me how little I know about the equipment I’d need to climb the mountain one day. So maybe when the kids grow up and I’ve seen them on their way, maybe then I’ll have the werewithal to write a novel. Until then, I won’t beat myself up so much for not having tried yet. Pretty funny – the comment about “the Hemingway talk” – do all aspiring writers carry around a version of “you have to write about what you know/have experienced” baggage? I think that’s held me back in writing things I feel pretentious to say I know anything about. It would be interesting to get a bunch of writers to tell how they reacted to that bit of wisdom, over time. Like who rejected the advice outright, who followed it, who tried, who failed, who succeeded despite the advice, and so on. Interesting.

  14. I don’t know that I want to write a novel. But these people appear in my head and direct me to tell their stories. And they are really persistent. One, Rachel, just wouldn’t stop. On and on about the farm in Bakersfield until I had more than 50 pages. So it seems that I am writing a novel. And apparently I’m slightly schizophrenic too.

  15. I just find that writing is simply what I love doing and what I seem to do best. I find that I can express myself, or tell a story, much better in writing than trying to voice it in oral words. As far as a novel… Well, I’ve considered writing several books. I have the ideas, characters, plots, and thoughts for each one. My problem is that my thoughts start racing and getting ahead of each other, and I can’t get it all written down fast enough to keep up with all the thoughts and ideas running through my head – so I usually just end up giving up in frustration.
    So, I don’t know if I’d say I want to write a “novel”… but I can say, I just LOVE to write. My current day-job boss laughs at me because my post-it notes are always detailed and concise; I make ‘to-do’ lists for everything just because it makes me feel better; etc, etc.
    A novel? I don’t know; I can’t keep up with my mind’s ideas going too fast. But writing? Definitely! Every chance I get.

  16. You aren’t questioning THAT a plumber, or a taxi driver, or a carpenter would write a novel, but why they would. However, and I may have read something into your post that is totally incorrect, but it still sounds as if you’d be surprised that someone not connected to acadamia, or literature, or maybe without a college degree, COULD write a novel. Why? The world is full of every day Joe’s and Jane’s, toiling along paycheck to paycheck to pay the bills, put the kids through school, etc., who never, for whatever reason, had a chance to pursue a higher education and an ‘elite’ or white collar career. These are probably also a high majority of the people who buy and read your books. But these people are every bit as capable of writing a novel that will be published as anyone else. I speak from experience about being in that position (not being published, though. Yet.) I was never able to attend college, having lost both parents by the time I was 19 and therefore without the financial resources to do so, marrying shortly thereafter, and having four children. College was just not in my cards. However, I am actively writing two novels, and hope to be published someday. And I write for probably the same reasons most people write – the stories are in my head, and must come out. The characters talk to me, direct the show, so to speak, and won’t let me rest if I DON’T tell their story. I have no choice. I think most people who write do it for the same reason – the stories are there and won’t let them rest. At least writing it down makes the characters stop talking back and forth in my head. At least for a day or so. ;)

  17. >

    No no no, I did not mean to imply any such thing. I am very aware that all kinds of people with all kinds of backgrounds have great stories to tell, and the ability to tell them. Many PhDs I know couldn’t write a story to save their lives.

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