Last week I wrote about some of the worst reasons you might have for writing a novel. That post got more hits than almost anything else I’ve written, which shows there are a lot of people out there thinking about it. This week I’ll give the positive side, because writing a novel can be amazing.
1: There’s a story I want to tell. This may be the only decent reason to write anything. It was why this story, of all the ideas for novels I’ve ever had, actually got written. I thought it was a good story, worth the trouble of telling. When it was going well, time flew past as the story unrolled almost faster than I could write it down. Even at the point when I never wanted to look at the damn thing again, I pressed on. I felt I owed it to the story to get it finished.
2: I love writing. You can tell when someone’s a writer, because they write a lot, even if they don’t need to. When I wasn’t writing a novel, I was writing a blog. Actually two blogs. Oh, and the residents’ association website, and two Twitter accounts, and contributing arts reviews to a community site. And of course I write and edit for a living, 9 to 5. If you stuck me on a desert island, I’d swap all the records for a huge stack of paper and a lot of pens. (Not the books. I want Shakespeare, the Bible and the complete works of everyone else.)
3: The story I want to tell ought to be a novel. Some of the best stories in the world can be told in a handful of pages. Some work best as flash fiction, plays, soap operas, or told aloud around a camp-fire. Think about why your story needs to be a novel. Unlawful Things was too complex for me to see any other way of doing it. It worked best on the page (lots of pages), unrolling a centuries-long historical story and a modern-day thriller side-by-side. The ambition of the story seemed to fit a novel.
4: I get to explore other, more exciting lives. Because if we’re lucky, our lives are fairly safe and just a little dull. I don’t really want to be kidnapped, or trapped in a burning building, like my heroine. But I enjoy the adventure of imagining how I might escape if these things did happen. And letting myself walk on the dark side, imagining how it feels to be the kidnapper or the murderer – that was scary, fascinating and a lot of fun. Although the transition back to mild-mannered wife and editor was a bit tough at times.
5: Even if it never gets published, I’ll learn what it’s like to write a novel. And how I could do it better next time. And if that happens, I’ll be OK with that. No, really.
6: It might be good. Of course, it’s more probable that it won’t be good. It might be shockingly bad. But I won’t know until I’ve tried to write it as well as I possibly can. And writing 100,000 words – then reading them, writing them better, editing them, thinking about them – is good discipline. When I began writing fiction, I had the mad idea that I had to be good at writing a novel from the start. Of course I wasn’t. You need to practice writing in the same way you need to practice ballet, or woodwork, or running.
7: When I finish, I won’t be one of those people who keeps saying they’d like to write a novel. I’ll be a person who’s written a novel. A novelist, in fact. And you can bore people with that fact for the rest of your life. Thinking about it, this probably ought to be on the ‘seven worst reasons to write a novel’ list. But it worked for me.