The allure of writing a novel pulls at me again....


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Thread: The allure of writing a novel pulls at me again....

  1. #1

    The allure of writing a novel pulls at me again....

    I was out for a walk in the last little while, having just finished a short story and looking to clear my head, when the idea of writing a novel has again invaded my mind. The word 'Midnight' keeps circulating in my head right now, and I'm not sure if that's a title, or main character name, or whatever. What I do know, is that I find that writing a novel is a monumental and daunting task, to say the least.

    I started a novel for the first time twenty-two years ago, when I was 18 and one the way out of high school. I had written fifty pages on loose leaf paper before losing the idea two years after I started, and it sat in a binder until 2018, when I resurrected the idea as a novella, and morphed it into a major installment in one the series I write.

    As much as I want to write a novel from beginning to end, I can't shake the notion that it might end up like the first one. I'm used to writing short stories and novellas, and investing anywhere from days to weeks, even a few months. A novel requires years, even decades, let alone the planning and researching needed. The first time around, I spent many a day in a public library reading and researching, those days turning into months. Part of me doesn't want to go through that again, but every so often I come back to the idea of a novel, and it does intrigue me.

    I honestly am not sure how to proceed, as I don't even have anywhere near enough of an idea to start. I'm also working on several other WIPs right now, and need to complete them. Do I start a novel again, knowing that it could very well take a few years to a decade? Do I focus on my strengths, and keep writing short stories and novellas? What does 'Midnight' even mean?

    As always, there are so many questions and so few answers. Ah, the life of a writer!

    -JJB
    ​"Strong convictions precede great actions....."

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  2. #2
    JJ,

    I'm looking at your signature:

    "Strong convictions precede great actions....."

    It is so true! If you want to write a novel, it is a big commitment. You have to have a strong conviction to get it done.

    I started a novel in 2002. Then dusted it off and worked on it again in 2007. But in January, 2020 I pulled it out again. This time I think I will do it. Few things I did to make it happen:

    1) I set a writing goal. It changed, but I always had one. First it was one chapter a month, then two chapters a month , and then one chapter a week. Each time I found it comfortable to reach my goals...I upped it. Currently my goal is 600 words a day. I plan to have it done by the end of the year.

    2) I created a mock up cover and wrapped it around a book to look like the actual thing published. I set it on my dining table so I see it each day.

    3) I bought a small three ring binder at the dollar store and wrapped the mock up cover around it. I print out the pages and put them in there, each time I have finished a chapter. It's all about visualization.

    4) I created a novel tack board. Here with different coloured Post-its, I put characters, places, scenes, actions, and plot lines. It helps me capture the ideas.

    How bad do want this? Only you can know. But I think you will find it easier than when you were 18. Think about all the life experience you have now...

    Midnight is a great title... I say go for it!!!
    Last edited by Taylor; July 4th, 2020 at 02:52 AM.
    Sometimes in the waves of change we find our new direction...
    - unknown

  3. #3
    I think people overthink novels a bit. There's no reason a novel has to be hugely daunting or monumental and it certainly doesn't have to take years or decades.

    Sure, they're hard work, but isn't any writing that achieves any kind of quality 'hard work'? Some poets feel absolutely defeated by poems that are only a handful of lines.

    On the other hand, one of the reasons people tend to get anguished over novels and not short stories is because short stories have the psychological advantage of being 'easy' by virtue of simply being short. Why not try to achieve a similar confidence with a novel? A novel is just a short story with more words in it, when all is said and done.

    Why is writing a one hundred thousand word novel more daunting or monumental than writing twenty 5,000 word short stories? It isn't, or it doesn't have to be. There's nothing in a novel that is somehow more advanced than a short story or novella...it's just longer.

    It's not really about how long something is then. It's about confidence.

    A novel seems destined to lead to some kind of arduous misery, instead of considering it as an either/or, why not simply write a different kind of novel? Something basic which you can really get to grips with?

    I finished a novel in January that took me a year and a second one in April that I had been writing off and on for five years. Given it's a bad time to be publishing, I immediately was seized by the desire to write an epic fantasy novel. I did start it, in fact, and have 10,000 or so words and it's pretty good. I don't hate it or anything...

    ...But I also recognized that it's not the kind of thing I want to be writing right now. Nor, frankly, am really capable of yet. I'm not Tolkien and those first 10,000 were kind of tough. I don't feel like I really had a full grasp of the world and didn't have the mindset or writing maturity to plan it all out to the extent it deserves. It needed a lot of research based on the history and culture I was exploring, a history and culture I didn't know much about. With that in mind, it would probably take forever...so, I put it away. I'm just not there right at this moment.

    Instead I'm writing a simpler novel, one that's super easy, requires basically no research at all (everything in it is something I know a lot about already) and it's not terribly long - 80,000 words. I finished the first draft the other day. It took two weeks to do that, which by my standards is basically light-speed. More important, there was no sense of impending doom when I wrote it. I just wrote it, easily and fairly stress-free (other than a couple scenes). It overall felt extremely comfortable from beginning to end.

    That's, for the most part, how writing should feel IMO. This is telling stories, not surgical reconstruction. If you feel overwhelmed, disoriented, or otherwise challenged to the point of existential dread by the thought of writing a certain novel...then don't write it. Write something that you will enjoy writing, that you generally feel able to do without incurring massive degrees of stress. You can always come back to the more elusive or complex ideas later on.

  4. #4
    As much as I want to write a novel from beginning to end, I can't shake the notion that it might end up like the first one.
    Write 2000 words a day and you've got a 60k word novel after a month. You just gotta bite down.
    Stranded in Babylon

  5. #5
    I agree with those saying you shouldn't build a novel up into a bigger challenge than it is.

    That said, if you're used to spending weeks or months on a short story or novella, you're probably not a fast writer (which is totally fine) so you'd want to give yourself time to write your novel in the way that's comfortable for you.

    I agree with Lucky - this is supposed to be an enjoyable activity. Don't write a novel because you feel like it's somehow a step on a progression; write a novel because you want to tell a story that needs more words to do it justice.

    I also agree with Taylor - smaller goals are easier to deal with. Maybe an outline this month, the first chapter next, or whatever.

    Mostly, though, I'd remind you to relax and have fun with it. Novels aren't harder than other forms of writing; they're just longer.

  6. #6
    Quote Originally Posted by Bayview View Post
    That said, if you're used to spending weeks or months on a short story or novella, you're probably not a fast writer (which is totally fine) so you'd want to give yourself time to write your novel in the way that's comfortable for you.
    It depends on what I'm writing, whether or not it's a stand alone story or part of a series. I just cranked out a short story in one day because of a spur of the moment idea that was complete in my mind. Even though I am mostly a plotter, I am prone to the odd spontaneous idea that translates quickly.

    When I started that first novel way back when, I took my sweet time, and continued to go over it and make improvements to the rough draft along the way. The main issue was losing the core idea and plot after two years of on and off writing. Every few years I would re-open the binder and read what I had done, hoping to recapture the magic of the novel and finish it. As I mentioned earlier, the novel became a novella and inserted into one of my universes more than two decades later. Luckily, the characters and plot worked with the series I put it in, but I still felt sad at having never completed the story as a novel.

    Quote Originally Posted by Bayview View Post
    I agree with Lucky - this is supposed to be an enjoyable activity. Don't write a novel because you feel like it's somehow a step on a progression; write a novel because you want to tell a story that needs more words to do it justice.
    That's part of my dilemma. If I am going to make another attempt at a novel, I need to see most of it in my head, and have a clear definition of what the story is that I want to tell. It would need to be the best thing I have ever written, and can be something that would make readers say, 'Wow.'

    I guess I'm saying that a novel would have to be an extension of my core being for it to succeed, if that makes any sense.

    -JJB
    ​"Strong convictions precede great actions....."

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  7. #7
    Quote Originally Posted by JJBuchholz View Post
    ...but I still felt sad at having never completed the story as a novel.
    I wonder why you feel sad about it. Is it because you had more ideas for the story that didn't make the cut? Or is it because something inside of you wants to write a novel? Or something else? Perhaps identifying what is causing this feeling will help you with your dilemma.

    Quote Originally Posted by JJBuchholz View Post
    That's part of my dilemma. If I am going to make another attempt at a novel, I need to see most of it in my head, and have a clear definition of what the story is that I want to tell. It would need to be the best thing I have ever written, and can be something that would make readers say, 'Wow.'
    Every good novel has a plot and theme. The theme is your message. That's all you need to start. The theme.

    Perhaps having to see it all in your head is part of the problem. Novels are long and complex. It is taxing on the brain to see it all at once. Find a method to record your ideas for characters, places, plot lines, actions, etc. Don't worry too much about it all coming together at first. Trust me, it does. Nothing makes me more satisfied than when I realize I've made a connection in chapter sixteen to something I set a seed for in chapter two. It's like prolonged gratification, but it does feel good.

    But I don't understand why you need to set your expectations of yourself so high. Could that be creating the blockage? Perhaps shift the desired outcome from readers saying "Wow" because it was the best thing you have ever written, to you saying "Wow", I just completed a novel.

    Quote Originally Posted by JJBuchholz View Post
    I guess I'm saying that a novel would have to be an extension of my core being for it to succeed, if that makes any sense.
    This part I totally get! And is likely the case for many novelists. So whatever that is, perhaps that's your theme.

    Don't give up yet...
    Sometimes in the waves of change we find our new direction...
    - unknown

  8. #8
    Quote Originally Posted by JJBuchholz View Post
    It depends on what I'm writing, whether or not it's a stand alone story or part of a series. I just cranked out a short story in one day because of a spur of the moment idea that was complete in my mind. Even though I am mostly a plotter, I am prone to the odd spontaneous idea that translates quickly.

    When I started that first novel way back when, I took my sweet time, and continued to go over it and make improvements to the rough draft along the way. The main issue was losing the core idea and plot after two years of on and off writing. Every few years I would re-open the binder and read what I had done, hoping to recapture the magic of the novel and finish it. As I mentioned earlier, the novel became a novella and inserted into one of my universes more than two decades later. Luckily, the characters and plot worked with the series I put it in, but I still felt sad at having never completed the story as a novel.

    That's part of my dilemma. If I am going to make another attempt at a novel, I need to see most of it in my head, and have a clear definition of what the story is that I want to tell. It would need to be the best thing I have ever written, and can be something that would make readers say, 'Wow.'

    I guess I'm saying that a novel would have to be an extension of my core being for it to succeed, if that makes any sense.

    -JJB
    Reg. plotting and short stores: I don't plot when I write shorts, but on novels I do.
    Reg. losing the core idea: that's why I can't work on more than one project at a time.
    Reg. the dilemma: long before I start work on the novel the story becomes an obsession. Everything I read seems two dimensional and lame because they follow time proven plots created to generate money - now... money = good, but that's not why I write. I work tirelessly on my novel because I'm fixated on the story and the characters are haunting me, demanding that I write and make them real. Maybe that's what you mean by your being an extension of yourself.

    Disclaimer: Regardless of what's written above, I'm not crazy... really... I'm not.

  9. #9
    Quote Originally Posted by Taylor View Post
    I wonder why you feel sad about it. Is it because you had more ideas for the story that didn't make the cut? Or is it because something inside of you wants to write a novel? Or something else? Perhaps identifying what is causing this feeling will help you with your dilemma.
    I'm honestly not sure why I feel sad about that from time to time. You would think I would have been happy starting a novel at the ripe old age of 17, even though my writing wasn't nearly as good then as it is now. I do look at that period of time as being very ambitious in my writing career. Just as ambition has put me on another publishing blitz at this time, as well as having experimented with other genres.

    Perhaps it's just the fact that I see my own writing in a completely different light now, because as it has evolved over time, it has changed me as well.

    Quote Originally Posted by Taylor View Post
    But I don't understand why you need to set your expectations of yourself so high. Could that be creating the blockage? Perhaps shift the desired outcome from readers saying "Wow" because it was the best thing you have ever written, to you saying "Wow", I just completed a novel.
    I think it stems from the fact that I am a Leo, a perfectionist of sorts, and have battled severe OCD since I was a kid.

    -JJB
    ​"Strong convictions precede great actions....."

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  10. #10
    Quote Originally Posted by JJBuchholz View Post
    It would need to be the best thing I have ever written, and can be something that would make readers say, 'Wow.'

    I guess I'm saying that a novel would have to be an extension of my core being for it to succeed, if that makes any sense.
    Why?

    I mean, it's good that you have high standards, for sure. But there's a difference between having high standards and having ones that are so high they feel crippling.

    I don't believe that very many successful novels start out as the conscious intent of being 'an extension of core being' or 'to make readers say wow' or 'to make it the best thing they have ever written'. I think those things tend to happen by accident. Like, I don't think when Tolkien or Tolstoy or Austen or whoever wrote their masterpieces the thought was on their mind that this is going to be a masterpiece. ​I think they just had 'an idea' that 'moved them' and their intent was simply to write that idea to the best of their ability and the absolute last thing they dwelt on was how difficult it is.

    I don't want to get into metaphors too much, but there was a video I watched about a free solo climber named Alex Honnold. Free soloing is rock climbing without any ropes or safety harnesses at heights that they would die from without question if they screwed up. From a bystander perspective it looks absolutely terrifying and impossible for a normal person to do. But, when you hear these maniacs talk about how they do this stuff, the one they always mention is that the technique to doing this seemingly impossible thing is to not think of it as being impossible or dangerous, to not dwell on the 'big picture' of the fact they are 2,000 feet in the air and inches from death with no rope, but the 'small picture': Each hand and foot moving steadily and carefully. They don't look down. They don't think about how people watching them are saying 'wow'. They focus on small, controllable actions and enjoy what they are doing, understanding that there's zero practical difference between climbing a twenty foot wall in the gym and a thousand foot wall in the middle of Yosemite besides duration and focus.

    I think that we can take some lessons from that approach. In this case, the 'mountain' is the novel and the 'fall' is our sense of internal failure. Sure, some things may happen that cause us to fall, but more than likely it's going to boil down to whether we lost our nerve or concentration rather than because it is simply too difficult. It's important to know your limits and not push yourself into projects that are simply beyond what is possible, I think that's a sign of maturity, but if you can write stories consistently there's no reason why a novel needs to be regarded as anything different to what you have already accomplished.

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