“I want to write a novel someday.”
This statement recently arose from a co-worker in response to my having just updated her on my novel-writing progress whilst we performed a menial task at the office.
It’s a common sort of remark, I’m sure, for writers to be told.
“What’s the toughest part about writing a novel?” my co-worker went on to ask me.
I gave my answer without missing a beat: “The hardest part about writing a novel is writing it.”
I wasn’t trying to be facetious, but rather to impress upon her that writing isn’t something anyone successfully just does “someday” without at least a little forethought and without being prepared to change one’s normal way of life.
We’ve all heard the analogies: writing a novel is like running a marathon; it’s a long haul down a highway of endless distraction and frustration.
Non-writers often attribute these hardships to the act of constructing a tale itself – of creating characters; of moving them forward through an ever-intensifying plot; of the hundreds of pages of words and sentences and paragraphs it takes to carry a story from beginning to end.
And yet, even if it takes someone half a year just to settle upon his/her characters; even if s/he only has time to write once or twice a week, or less; even if s/he has to rewrite his/her story five and six times to make the plot logical and cooperative and fun, anyone who is committed to put in the work can write a novel in due course.
The literal act of writing is hard, but in the grand scheme of things, it’s actually pretty damn easy. We are human, after all; we are wired in our genetic memory to tell stories, of which novels are just a text-based format.
What is hard, though, is committing to writing a novel – making the commitment to not only start it, but to finish as well, and then finding the discipline to actually do it.
This, at least, is how it was for me. Coming up with a story idea was child’s play compared to divining an idea of how to integrate writing into my already maximized life – especially following my six-year writing hiatus. (Which, I might add, didn’t happen because I no longer loved writing, but rather because I came to love so other things a little bit more.)
For me, making the commitment to write – to be a writer – was the smallest physical step of my novel-writing journey, yet a necessary catalyst to set the already prolonged process in motion.
It’s a step not everyone is willing or able to take.
“Someday” doesn’t have to be today
Committing to write a novel means learning to say “No” to a lot of things: going out every night; excessive TV, internet, video games, or any other form of entertainment that subsumes times that could be spent adding new words; being everything to everyone; always being willing to immediately drop everything to offer assistance when other’s ask for it.
Your life is no longer your own when you commit becoming a writer: a piece of it is given over to the Muse as surety that you will, indeed, repay your debt of inspiration.
Highly extroverted, popular, sociable people like my co-worker often struggle with reordering and reprioritizing their lives to accommodate writing (it is a solitary pursuit, after all), although these difficulties aren’t the sole province of the well-liked.
Modern life is busy for everyone: days are short, distractions are ubiquitous, and compared to other artistic endeavours, the interim phases of writing offer little that is truly interesting or necessarily understandable.
Plus, life is full of countless other endeavours to pursue that are just as rewarded as writing. And there are only so many hours in a given day.
Which is why, to conclude my chat with my co-worker, I offered the reassurance that it’s okay to not be writing your novel now. It’s okay that “someday” isn’t today, or even tomorrow. Just because you’re not quite ready yet doesn’t mean you never will be.
If you really want to write as much as you think you do, the desire to do so isn’t going to go away. It will continue to nag you for years, if necessary, until finally – finally – you give in and do something about it.
And then your life will never be the same again.