Thursday, September 03, 2020

So You Want To Be A Novelist.

You think that it would be a pleasant life to be a published novelist, do you? Allow me to let you in on a thing or two about the act of writing a novel that no one may have told you.

It isn’t pleasant to spend weeks of your life writing scenes and sentences and paragraphs that are actually wonderful, and then have to take them out because you realize – or your editor or your writers' group points out quite correctly – that they don’t fit the story. It’s horrible! I loved that character. That was a brilliant line. But the vicious truth is that a well constructed novel does not include anything that does not advance the plot or reveal something about a character. You want that story published? If your publisher/editor says to change or delete that scene you love, you suck it up, wipe your eyes, and take it out.

If you have signed a contract, and you have agreed to deliver an acceptable manuscript by a certain date, you will undergo a period of hair-raising terror and desperation as the deadline approaches, mark my words. You will offer your first born to the muses if you can just get the requisite number of words on the page by the deadline. You will pray that your manuscript is at least good enough that your editor won’t throw it back in your face and tell you that you’ll never write in this town again. Once the MS has been read and approved, and even praised, you will be relieved beyond measure while at the same time swearing that you’ll never put yourself through this again. Until another damn good idea pops into your head. I promise you that Toni Morrison, Steven King, and William Shakespeare have all had this experience.

You will undergo actual physical pain. I’ve just spent the past week in a writing frenzy. This frenzy includes long interludes of staring at a computer screen, waiting for just the right word to occur to me. Aside from doing what is necessary to keep myself alive and fit for human society, I’ve spent day after day, hour after hour, in this chair, typing away. When I cannot take it any more, I wrench myself up into a standing position. I’m bleary-eyed, and have a headache. My back hurts. My butt is numb. My wrist hurts. Where did I put that wrist brace? My husband asks why I’m walking like Quasimoto. Take a stretch. Get a drink. Get a pillow for the chair. I go to the bathroom, splash some water on my face, and examine my face in the mirror. Oh, my God. No more writing today. I have to have something to eat. I sit down with Don and have a bowl of soup and some crusty bread. He asks me how it’s going.

"Well, my dear, I wrote a scene in which Bianca discovers a clue in the bedroom. I worked on it all day, but I’m not happy with what I’ve got. Perhaps if I approached it from another angle. Perhaps it would be more effective if it weren’t in the bedroom, but the kitchen instead. I’ll have to rework that whole scene. Maybe I don’t even need it. Four hours of writing, shot."

In the morning, you plant yourself in front of the computer and go at it again. This is one thing they don’t tell you about the author’s life. It is relentless.


Sybil Johnson said...

Oh so very true. Add to that the certainty a writer sometimes get that they won't be able to finish another book.

Irene Bennett Brown said...

This is how it is, for sure. But can you not write? Not possible, you dive in for more punishment. Yep, over and over and over.The glory moments are there, though. Thank goodness.

Judy Penz Sheluk said...

So true. Want glamour? Throw glitter at the computer screen, then keep on writing. The one thing I'd tell anyone writing their very first novel is this: Savour every moment because if you're lucky enough to get published, you'll never have the luxury of so much unstructured time, especially when it's time to start promoting it. Good post, will share.

Arthur Kerns said...

Hi Donis, You hit the nail on the head. (Cliche) Fact is my editor just returned my manuscript and at my request eliminated 20K words. I didn't have the heart to cut them myself. However, some day those scenes with my spy in a 1941 Ecuadorian jail will reappear as a short story. Good job.