Everyone Can Write a Novel by Nancy Brophy

I don’t know anyone who thinks they can’t write a novel.  And not a mid-list book either, but a best seller. If only they had more time. But they have a family, a job, soccer practice, dinner to put on the table, and vacations to take. It’s a shame really, because they could be the next Stephen King, Dan Brown or JK Rowling. If only life hadn’t gotten in the way.

There are others who have started a manuscript, but floundered. They received negative feedback from a friend, spouse or contest. They sagged. They folded. They lacked enough passion to rally back and fight. No doubt it was harder than they thought.  No doubt it sounded better in their mind than on paper. No doubt another career called their name.

I envy the perfectionists. Chapter one, scene one is written, and rewritten, and rewritten again. Every comma is perfect. Each word resounds with meaning upon meaning. When they die, they have achieved twelve perfect pages.

Others believe a first draft is a final draft. No need to edit or rewrite. Women will weep; men will envy. Any editor who would dare to reject such a masterpiece is an idiot.

One of my favorite stories is about the English teacher who finally decided she’d made her point that good writing is in the re-writing when a student left a sign on her door one day. “Should I kill myself? All that lies before me is suffering. Dying would rid me of that pain….” Hamlet Act 3, Scene 1 First Draft.

We have got the excuses, don’t we? How many of those categories do I fall into? All of them. Toni Morrison wrote, “if there’s a book you really want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.”

The hardest book to finish is the one I’ve never started. Writing (and I’ve learned this the hard way) does not come from muses or the girls in the basement. Writing is a career that requires earnest dedication and continual work. You can find 150 things to do on your computer each day besides write.

There are blogs to read and blogs to write. There is email to answer and games to play. But no matter how much I lie to myself, that isn’t writing.

Setting up a website, marketing or designing my cover isn’t writing either. Although I do admire authors like JD Salinger who write one perfect book and become a recluse. So far, I’m struggling with making that plan a reality.

I’m finding my process. It’s an excuse I’ve used more often than not. But here’s the ugly little secret I’ve learned. Each book is a new process. I’ve written fast and slow, at home and on the road. I’ve plotted and made storyboards. But as long as I can find other things to do, I put off the hard work of getting the story onto the page.

I fight writer’s block constantly.

Here’s my best idea. While thinking about my characters and the scene I need to write, I find a favorite author and a scene of a similar purpose. I start typing their words while thinking about my characters. Within a couple of sentences, my words take over. By the time the book is finished, I’ve edited and changed every sentence so many times, the other author’s words are gone.

My problems do not come from external sources. I battle my inner self who, given an opportunity, would drink scotch and eat chocolate all day.  As the Pogo cartoon character once said, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

I know there are people out there who don’t struggle. I hear about them all the time. But the funny thing, is I’ve never met one. Most of the writers I know suffer, suffer, suffer. And they want to tell you all about it, because the rules of suffering are like the rules of surgery. Minor surgery is on someone else.

In fact, that might make a good novel. Why don’t I just sit down and whip that out, right now? In the process, I’ll open a vein, because that is what novel-writing really is, giving your life force to your story.

Posted on October 28, 2011, in General and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. “My problems do not come from external sources. I battle my inner self who, given an opportunity, would drink scotch and eat chocolate all day.”

    Wine and chocolate “get in the way” of my writing, too. 🙂


  2. “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

    How right you are, lol!


  3. Thank you both. I am always glad to have confirmation.


  4. How interesting, Nancy! I think I’m the opposite (in terms of your tip–which I’ll be sharing with students)–when I’m writing a first draft, I read no fiction at all. This is near torture for someone who’s relied on books almost her whole life. And all that pent up need goes right into my novel in the works–and fuels it.

    I really enjoyed this balanced perspective on process!


  5. Great Post. (not that I’m taking time away from writing to comment on a blog). You are one of the most confident writers I know and you inspire me to keep trying, even though I have used every single excuse mentioned in your post 🙂


Thanks for your comment!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: