At some stage in their creative life, almost all writers tell themselves “I have a novel inside me, somewhere”. Some make a public pronouncement and continue to do so for a number of years, or even decades. Others bury this dream deep inside and hope that one of their efforts will be completed and will survive editing, proofing, suggested alterations and rewrites and the criticisms of those with whom they share early drafts.
Many writers start, but give up on their definitive novel. Their dreams are confounded by the many pitfalls awaiting the would-be novelist. The story that they want to tell becomes too convoluted and inconsistencies of plot or relationships are impossible to resolve and consuming of precious time. Then questions which are so obvious to the reader go unnoticed by the writer, even during the innumerable corrective rewrites of the text with which they are over familiar.
Perhaps the research, necessary to make the context of their novel accurate and the characters credible and which needs to be part of the novel, becomes the novel, pushing plot, characters and storyline into subservient roles.
Many writers, adept at shorter stories, cannot get the right mix of plot movement, character development and necessary descriptive detail so that the novel flows and satisfies the reader. Facts and situations that the writer has clearly fixed in their mind never make their way onto the printed page. Their presence there is assumed by the novelist whose creative mind they have never left. Such omissions may be minor. On occasions they bring the creation crashing down. Squeezing them in, on rewrite, does not necessarily solve the plot problem.
Many who believe the novel is somewhere within, are unaware that the topic that so intrigues them is a dead-end alley in an obscure genre for which the audience is limited and markets likewise. That which fascinates you, in all its literary and descriptive detail, is unintelligible to the majority who could care less what you have written.
Now we get to the soul-destroying aspect of novel writing. On the assumption that you have cleared, or infilled in rewrite, the pitfalls listed above, assume again that your writing buddy friends and/or professional editor agree that your novel is as good as you can make it. Now is the time to submit it for possible publication by those demi-Gods in publishers sweatshops who reject on the flimsiest of pretexts, despite never detailing exact criteria for submission or a timeline for a decision on your masterpiece.
My novel is out!
It is nowhere near publication and may never get there. But the novel that I have long felt was causing creative indigestion has emerged. If someone likes it enough it will be published. I like it, but it will not be self published. A necessary adjunct to that is marketing – a subject which earns me a recurring “F”.
Published or not, I have written a novel. It may be flawed, despite the efforts I have made to overcome the difficulties of the first-time novelist. A walk around the shelves of your local bookstores or a search, on line, for novels new, old, reduced and out-of-print reveals the degree of competition for sales space and marketing strategies. I would not bet on my work joining them.
So why am I writing this bragging piece about how I have succeeded in completing a novel? Why am I taking such pains to describe how difficult it is?
As I implied, at the beginning of this piece, many wanna-be novelists share a characteristic. They procrastinate. Their novel is somewhere safe inside and will eventually be regurgitated. What’s the hurry?
Herewith a cautionary tale. I was in my forties before I found the joys of writing, and even older before I realized that this satisfaction invoked by creative writing is, by itself, often enough – if you like to write. Children’s stories, poetry, plays, travel pieces, short stories, scary stories, a prizewinning novel for early teens, personal writing which was collected as a patchwork memoir and self published; all were my creations. The quality varied – and always, deep inside, was that novel.
Reading taste dictated that I would probably write a ‘history’ or a ‘mystery’. I believe we write what we live and read. But a historical novel requires detailed knowledge and/or research of the life and times of the novel. I am a lazy researcher and, had I overcome this fault, I would have lost the story in the details of the age in which it was set because I would become obsessed with the historical trivia.
I would love to create a detective operating in a time and location of which I have intimate knowledge. It is my favorite genre but I never cease to be amazed at how the mystery masters and mistresses can juggle the plots, clues, red-herrings, forensics and other technicalities while keeping the characters believable, locations fascinating and front and centre of a developing story – with sequels to follow.
I entered my eightieth year with arthritis and an unformed novel knotting my working parts. Time was definitely a factor. A prompt stimulated a short story about two forty-somethings finding one another and, perhaps, love. A chance remark, that this could be the opening chapter for a longer piece, worked better than antacid on novel indigestion. The romance developed and a 70 000 word, short novel grew.
The question hangs in the air – how can an eighty year old great grandfather possibly write a romantic novel?
My novel is at the stage where my wife has read all of it and says, had she not been intimately acquainted with the author she would have quit after thirty pages. However, she did persevere and enjoyed the book. Fellow writers have offered to read and comment. Changes consequent on their feedback will happen, but it also needs professional editing and comment from an unbiased expert.
If it passes all these scrutinizations I will submit it under a pseudonym of one of my daughters’ or granddaughters’ names with a phony, female author biography.
If it makes it to publication I shall enjoy revealing the truth about this old geezer who, amid all his arthritic bones, had a romantic bone left in his body – one that hatched into a novel.
But any novel, from fertilization, over innumerable stumbling blocks, to sales, takes for ever. Revelation of ancient authorship could well be posthumous. But at least I won’t be worried about marketing.