The pleasure of writing a novel
The fabulous internet thingy called Medium plopped this hefty blob o’ truth (which certainly pertains to writing a novel) into my inbox today: You Can’t Make a Living as a Writer Because Writing isn’t a Job. You should read it, but if you’re not inclined, here’s the upshot.
Writers have day jobs because being a writer isn’t a job. Writing is a thing you can do if you like it! It’s a thing you might get paid for, now and again, if you’re good at it! But it’s not a job. – Ester Bloom
I’ve written in one form or another from the time I learned to spell. Ten years ago, I started writing a novel and discovered there is no form of entertainment quite like digging into a character’s head and convincing him to spill his deepest secrets. I write for the sheer joy of it. Falling into the story world feels a lot like falling madly in love. It’s an all-consuming process that leaves you by turns giddy, sentimental, and obsessive.
Writing a novel is also a little like working on a jigsaw puzzle. Every novel consists of thousands of tiny pieces which all fit together. When I open a new jigsaw puzzle box, I’m incredulous that every piece will be there and will fit perfectly with another piece. My husband hates jigsaw puzzles and sees them as 1,000 to 3,000 occasions to be frustrated. But I see them as 1,000 to 3,000 opportunities to say “Yes! This is the piece that fits!”
Stories are like that, except you have to make the pieces fit by shaping them yourself, and sometimes going backward to reshape them through revision.
And then there is what I call puzzle mode. That’s when I’m so deep in the zone that I can reach into the box without looking, pull out a random piece and immediately place it exactly where it fits . This flow happens in writing too: when a whole scene falls together, when a character offers that perfect bit of dialogue, when that minuscule, seemingly random element from six chapters back reappears to reveal its deeper purpose.
Between my general proclivity for writing and an annual commitment to NaNoWriMo, I’ve amassed a modest arsenal of novels on my hard drive. Last winter, I decided they deserved better than suspended animation in a virtual trunk of inconvenienced megabytes. I committed to pulling them out and revising them for publication one at a time. State of Love & Trust was my first victim. (And if writing a novel is like falling in love, revision and editing are akin to labor and childbirth. Demanding, but so worth it.)
I don’t see writing a novel as a job, but a joy. Success as a writer depends on how you define it. For me, a successful novel is one that others can read and enjoy. It doesn’t have to be a best seller, receive rave literary reviews, be optioned for a movie, or nominated for a literary award. The heartbreaking truth is your novel could be some or all of those things and you still could find yourself broke, frustrated and giving up on writing.
It may be tempting to blame the publishing industry for this state of affairs, but it is what it is. No amount of wishing or complaining is going to change it. The publishing industry works for the publishing industry. If and when it changes, it will do so only for the benefit the publishing industry. That’s no indictment of the publishing industry; the same could be said of any industry.
If you love writing, write. Don’t quit your day job. If your writing is good, put it out there. Don’t wait for the publishing world to validate you unless for some reason you really need their validation. Don’t make your writing dependant on whether you can make a living at it. If you’re writing to chase attention, fame or wealth, well, good luck with that. I’ll just be out on my porch during my non-work hours, drafting, revising, and editing the kinds of novels that I love to read.
I have a full-time job that I love. 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM every weekday I’m at the office with a bunch of nice, smart, hardworking people who are formulating, manufacturing, selling and supporting some terrific products. OK, OK, in point of fact it’s a glue factory. But it’s the best damned little glue factory on the Great Lakes. Or the continental US, for that matter. As a bonus, my job involves plenty of writing and editing … about glue. Which is fine with me. Glue and the things people do with it can actually be pretty darned interesting.
Finding the Time
Does working a day job cut into my novel-writing time and energy? Maybe, I guess, if I’m foolish enough to look at it that way. Instead, I see working at my day job as providing the financial means to write whatever I want during my free time. I don’t have to be concerned about whether my books will appeal to a mass market, or coincide with what’s trendy this month, or match my dream agent’s quirky tastes, or a fill a convenient blank spot in my dream publisher’s fiction wish list. My novels aren’t burdened with providing my bread and cheddar because my day job has already put those on the table.
I don’t have dreams of becoming an author. I am an author. I don’t have dreams of “one day writing a book” because I’ve already written several. Here’s what else I don’t have: time to complain about not having time to write.
I earn money by working diligently at a regular job, then make time for writing by jealously guarding my non-work hours, limiting TV, giving short-shrift to the housework (dirt keeps, but that scene idea might not), and brewing a pot of coffee when I’d prefer a nap. When I get stuck, I walk the dog or fold some laundry. Some of my best story revelations hit me when I’m at the grocery store. When that happens, I make a quick, sometimes macabre note on my phone (******* must die!) and continue on my way.
Writing a novel doesn’t require endless days in an Adirondack chair on a sugar sand beach without another concern on the horizon. Or a tidy cabin in the woods with a crackling birch log fire and snow falling silently on a frozen lake miles from civilization. Or independent wealth. Or retirement. Or generous benefactors making donations via your PayPal link or GoFundMe account. It only requires your willingness to put your butt in a chair and work on a story day after day, week after week, month after month with whatever time you can spare until it’s completed, revised, story edited, line edited and polished.
Keeping my day job keeps my writing a joy.