If anyone ever tells you that writing a novel is easy then:
a) they have a very good ghost writer; or
b) they have a rubbish publisher and therefore poor editors; or
c) they’re a prodigy; or
d) they’re a liar.
A), B) and D) are far more likely than C). The truth is, it isn’t easy.
It is a solitary occupation, which rules many folks out. Personally, I kind of like the quiet.
It requires determination and discipline. Distractions are plentiful, as Catherine Deveny recently noted. If you work from home and tend towards a neat freak personality, you’re really going to have a battle on your hands. “Do I sweep down the cobwebs above the TV cabinet or try and write that intro I’ve been procrastinating on for a month… OK, so the cobwebs are down now but the dishwasher still needs emptying…” By the time you crank up the laptop and re-read what you last wrote, it’s time to cook dinner or collect the kids or both.
Being a novelist requires a resilient ego. You need to be bold enough to risk putting your work into the public domain, yet malleable enough to deal with rigorous editing, meagre sales figures and critical flagellation. While you’ll have times when you revel in a sentence that sings, I guarantee there’ll be periods when you despair whether you can write at all. And that’s without picking up book written by someone else and collapsing into an inferiority funk. Comparing your work/career with another author’s – and caring how you measure up – is a recipe for insanity.
You’ll need an eye for detail. If you write using the same phrases, descriptions, adjectives and verbs over and over, you’ll get panned. If you overuse adverbs, the same applies (although commercial success is still possible). There are websites that delight in dissecting books to reveal such failings. Poor research is another minefield.
A good editor will assist with these issues but you can help yourself. Read your work aloud. Listen for words that pop up too often, unrealistic dialogue and sentences that tie your tongue in knots.
Read and re-read. Write and re-write.
Chances are, you’re unlikely to ever feel your work is finished and perfect.
Indeed, you can’t be smitten with your own work. In all probability the passage you are fondest of will be first to fall under the editor’s scalpel. If you’re trying to be funny, you may be in for a shock. What’s funny to one set of eyes isn’t necessarily to another.
I’ve worked as a newspaper journalist so I’m somewhat hardened to being edited. I work as a website editor so I’m accustomed to rewriting contributors’ copy. But when it’s your own work you’re editing it’s much harder.
I’m working on what I consider the 8th version of my current novel and there will be further redrafting required. It took me four days to read it aloud and note changes required, and several more days to take in my own edits. I still managed to miss bits or mess them up and introduce new errors. Writing really can be Sisyphean in the demands it makes of you.
So why do we do it? Because it can be intoxicating and seductive. And if you get the stone to the top of the mountain, there’s a chance that someone will read it and like what you do.
Here’s YA phenomenon Maureen Johnson, courtesy of the vlogbrothers, sharing some other home truths on writing as a profession: