Statistically, this is no big deal. If you’re sitting in a row of people, take a look at the person on the left of you and then on the right. Chances are that one of these people has written or is in the process of writing a novel or at very least has a great idea for a novel or may in fact be sitting on a novel at that very moment, which leads to the question: what kind of row are you sitting in, anyway?
From a technical point of view, it has never been so easy to write a novel. When I first started writing, it was either by hand or on a typewriter, which meant you really had to be motivated if you wanted to tackle a long work. Revising and editing meant re-typing the whole thing all over again. Who had time for that, what with Rubik’s cubes to solve and parachute pants to purchase?
The arrival of word processing and, more recently, ebooks and online publishing means that it is almost ridiculously easy to bang out a book and send it out into the world for tens if not dozens of people to read.
But as someone wiser than me once said, just because you can write a novel doesn’t mean you should. They say the same thing about signing up for belly dancing classes, by the way, but let’s move on.
It’s not the easiest thing for writers to hear, let alone accept, but most novels aren’t especially good. Few are great. Many are downright terrible. But even the good ones have only the slimmest chance of being moderately successful. The slimmest ones, on the other hand, are easier to sit on.
So why bother? Why have I spent the past year sacrificing valuable television time to work on a manuscript that may end up being read by a few friends and family members?
Because writing a novel, it turns out, is wicked awesome.
(And for the record, no one in my novel says “wicked awesome.” Someone does say “wicked cool,” though, which I think we can all agree is not the same thing at all.)
I have no idea where my novel falls on the “downright terrible/great” scale, but the process has been an entirely satisfying creative endeavour. I’ve written something with comedy! Action! Romance! Turtles! I’ve created an entire town out of nothing – the Town of Beaverly, home of Canada’s largest sinkhole and The Beaverly Modicum, which, if publishing a review of my novel, would headline it “Sunshine Kvetches of a Cranky Town” – it’s that kind of newspaper. I’ve invented characters – a biologist, a mayor, a young reporter (don’t worry; it’s not semi-autobiographical) and one character who surprised me by just walking through the door in the middle of the story and making himself at home. I’ve come up with a plot that centres around a natural disaster, which is just the opportunity the mayor is looking for to put Beaverly on the map. I’ve discovered that I use the word “just” far too often.
In other words, I will have no regrets if nothing comes of this manuscript. I won’t have failed. I hate reading someone described as a “failed writer.” You never hear someone who comes last in a footrace described as a “failed runner.” The satisfaction lies in the finish, not the placement. I’m used to short writing sprints of 700 to 800 words, so this novel has been my marathon. I’ve crossed the English Channel! I’m swimming with the endorphins!
I’ve had a couple of discussions lately about who exactly writers write for: themselves or other people. Every story wants to be read, of course, just as every painting wants to be seen. But I think the better analogy is music. There’s joy to be had in simply singing out loud, and if others enjoy it as well, so much the better. And thankfully most people are too polite to mention that you sing like a diesel engine.
So my advice to you is to write that novel or memoir or short story if you have it in you. Like singing, what harm can it do? Write it for yourself but with care and attention as though someone might actually read it. And, who knows, someone might. Find the time, because life is too short for regrets.
As for my book, I hope to get the sucker published. In the meantime, an excerpt will be published this fall in the upcoming Taproot anthology, which in itself is wicked cool.
And here’s an excerpt for my WordPress friends (“Fiction? We didn’t come here for no stinkin’ fiction!”) from one of the early chapters of A Hole in the Ground. And don’t worry: no turtles were harmed in the writing of this book.