Writing a Novel is Hard

The title above is pretty obvious and, to be blunt, a little bit of venting. But I’d like to look at a few of the reasons why with an eye to considering what to do about them.

(To give context, I’m currently about 18,000 words behind in my NaNoWriMo novel and probably not going to finish on time. Which isn’t a big deal since once I finish the next step is just starting with the editing. And the first pass of editing often involves a fair bit of rewriting, so it’s not like I was going to be not-writing once November was over anyway.)

One of the pieces of advice often given to people doing NaNoWriMo is to turn off your inner editor. For some people this is undoubtedly good advice but, personally, I don’t find this useful at all. I write much better when I like what I’ve written so far and feel that it’s what I want to build the rest of my novel on. It’s a little bit slower of a process than a mad-dash approach, but it generally works for me (I won 7 nanowrimos in years gone by).

What I do have trouble with and need to work on, however, is turning off external editors. I’m very good at imaging what other people will say; this is useful for writing characters, of course, but also for things like debate preparation because I can debate people without requiring them to be present. Of course, I don’t make a habit of debating people so this is of limited utility. The bigger problem is that I can imagine all of the criticism I’ll get from others and it’s contradictory criticism because the people involved have different tastes.

Which is fine in real life—only the bible is for everyone, everything else is for the people who like it. But this plays havoc with my ability to write because I can far too easily hear how much someone or other will dislike what I’m writing.  And to be clear, I don’t mean that it’s bad. I meant that people have different tastes. People who want action will dislike too much conversation. People who like conversation will dislike action.  It’s inherently impossible to please people whose tastes don’t overlap. So it’s important to forget about the people for whom the book is not.

Unfortunately, I find this hard. I’m not sure what the solution is.  Part of what works is concentration; concentrating on the story helps me to tune these other voices out at least somewhat.

Another big problem I have is one of time management. I need to have the novel in my head in order to write it, and unfortunately my day job (programmer) means that I have to forget about my novel so I can fit the code into my head instead. Worse, I’ve got a few side-projects going on so they’re taking up space in my memory too. I’ve got no idea what the solution to this is. Multi-tasking is inefficient but I’m also not going to put my other projects down. Possibly the right approach is to decrease the number of time slices but increase the size of the time slices.  Instead of trying to write some each day, perhaps I’d be better off dedicating five hours to writing every 3 days. It’s definitely something to think about.

Which of course is at odds with another of my problem—young children need a lot of time. I’m not sure how to manage this one because my children are simply a higher priority than my novel is.

Another difficulty to throw into this mix is that everything goes better when one gets enough sleep.

One thing I think very important as a coping strategy is to realize that not everything works out and that’s OK. One of the things which has to counterbalance ambition is tolerance for failure. You can accomplish far more if you’re willing to fail sometimes, but you have to be realistic about that and not worry about the failure.

In my case it took something like 3 years for The Dean Died Over Winter Break to finally get published. The fact that I should be able to get Wedding Flowers Will Do for a Funeral out faster is an abstract fact; circumstances will dictate what will actually happen, and that comes under the providential direction of God’s governance of the world. It’s my job to try, it’s God’s job to decide whether or not I succeed.

Also, on a practical level, I need to continue moving away from web-based stuff like google docs. Google docs is only good for tiny projects and, frankly, it’s not even good at that. I’ve switched over to libreoffice and using a script that uses inotifywait to push changes into a git repository. This has been an improvement. I think I need to continue it by moving the character trait document and the what-really-happened document into text files and just keep them in lightweight editors. There’s an advantage there because the web browser has other things which aren’t good for productivity in it, too.

No real conclusion to this, just some thoughts as I’m thinking through them. I hope it helps someone, or at least was mildly interesting. God bless you.

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